This February, we asked SWAG members to voice their opinions on standardized tests

Tests are commonplace in schools — there's no escaping them. But one topic that has been in discussion around many students and staff alike are standardized tests.

Smarter Balanced is a state assessment given to grades 3-8 and 11 to indicate whether students are ready for college or the workplace.

And many juniors are less than eager to dive in.

Whatever the stance students are taking on standardized tests, the Student Writers Advisory Group (SWAG) — with students hailing from West Linn, Wilsonville and Lake Oswego — fell into discussion surrounding the significant amount of tests juniors are required to take versus the importance of Smarter Balanced testing in particular.

"Teaching cannot be standardized. Schools cannot be standardized. The process of education differs vastly from person to person, and the attempts to judge schools en masse will always prove unruly and ineffective," West Linn High School junior Wallace Milner said.

Other students, like Wilsonville High School sophomore Alyson Johnston, fear more tests will take away from learning and would rather school's not administer standardized tests at all.

This February, we asked SWAG members to voice their opinions on standardized tests. Below are their thoughts:

Prepping for the testSPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Wallace Milner

Standardized testing is the topic that has raised controversy from classrooms to Congress. The idea of a national, baseline test is not in and of itself a bad one. Our nation's school curriculums vary state to state and school to school. It's an ineffective and unruly system and the effort to centralize it is a noble one.

With that caveat in mind, I'm afraid it must be reported that Common Core standardized testing has proved a failure. It may be difficult for parents to view the impact on curriculum from the outside, but within schools, a marked, negative impact is apparent. Teachers have a motivation to teach specifically for the test. Weeks are devoted to the odd eccentricities of various questions or styles. In a way, the curriculum has become too centralized. It's now only about the test.

I don't mean to imply that schools are wholly devoted to standardized tests. The vast majority of the time, West Linn classrooms are focused on the class subject. However, particularly in AP classes, an unnecessary amount of time is devoted to test preparation.

For example, in my AP English literature class, most days are devoted to fascinating discussions of the authors, themes and motifs of classics such as "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Grapes of Wrath." It's a wonderful opportunity for students interested in literature to expand their knowledge and understanding of writing. However, a substantial amount of time is devoted to test preparation. Sometimes, it's useful practice, like synthesizing an essay, but sometimes it's meaningless outside of the AP test, such as answering multiple choice questions.

This, I believe, is the great failing of standardized tests. They don't show the level of the school, but rather the level of test preparation. This is an inevitable reality of standardized tests. Teaching cannot be standardized. Schools cannot be standardized. The process of education differs vastly from person to person, and the attempts to judge schools en masse will always prove unruly and ineffective.

This isn't to say that standardized testing is impossible. I simply think it's too complicated to enforce on a national level. It would be more useful if national regulations were ceded to the states, and states to local communities. We should not surrender on the ultimate goal of raising education levels across America, but we must be willing to take a more nuanced approach to reach that goal.

— Wallace Milner,

West Linn High School

Opting out of standardized testsSPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Alyson Johnston

Standardized testing has long been a staple of the high school experience. From the SAT to the ACT, thousands of students have filled in millions of bubbles to feed insatiable computers.

States are required to assess students based on federally mandated Common Core standards or risk losing funding. This has led to Smarter Balanced — a standardized test in multiple subject areas developed by a consortium based in California — and increased student anxiety. The stress caused by these tests can be extremely overwhelming.

Since these tests can be used to measure a school's "success" (not to mention their ranking compared to other schools), students can feel even more pressure to succeed. The fact that these standardized exams are still used is something that shocks me. How is it fair to measure a school's "success" by one test that one junior class takes?

These standardized tests are unfair to both students and teachers. Teachers may feel the need to teach to the test, not necessarily the curriculum, and students can feel the extreme stress of a huge test looming over them for most of the year.

A standardized test also isn't something that works well for young students. There are no "standard" students, and therefore, this kind of test isn't something that is necessary for students. Adding on extra stress to an already anxiety-ridden year isn't productive for juniors.

Even though tests like the Smarter Balanced test are optional, many still feel like they should partake in the exam.

Opting out is a burden, because students must get parental consent. This deferment requires the parents to talk to administration and fill out forms all before the test day. Multiple students do opt out of taking the test each year, but there is, at least in my experience, a certain pressure to take the test.

The stigma around scores can also be something that hurts students. The stress to do well on a test that does not hold much weight on your future endeavors is something that high schoolers shouldn't have to deal with.

Personally, I feel standardized testing is something that should no longer be used in high school. I think there are better ways to get more accurate representations of where students are: long-term evaluations, performance and portfolio assessments, or even a different style of testing all together.

Standardized testing is something that steals away learning time, puts needless stress on students, and is not helpful for students.

— Alyson Johnston,

Wilsonville High School

Bad timingSPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Karthik Sreedhar

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is a standardized test that will be taken by juniors in high school soon this year. The test provides information about how our school district and individual schools stack up against others in the state of Oregon, giving feedback about both the district and the school.

There are many advantages that come with having a higher standardized test average for the district, but still, I think a relatively large number of juniors are choosing to opt out and not take the test at all. Opting out of the exam hurts the accuracy of the data collected because there is not enough to draw conclusions from.

However, many of these students who opt out believe they are justified in doing so. During junior year students take a seemingly infinite amount of tests — the PSAT, the SAT or ACT and AP exams on top of the regular tests in their classes. Because of this, many juniors are wanting to avoid Smarter Balanced testing, especially since the test takes up almost a week of their year.

Additionally, the testing becomes extremely tiresome since many of its questions are harder and require particular steps to be taken. The purpose of standardized testing is extremely valuable and useful. However, juniors are required to take this test at an unfortunate time. Students are juggling several tests on top of Smarter Balanced which takes a week to complete.

— Karthik Sreedhar,

Lake Oswego High School

Give juniors a breakSPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Claire Petersen

"Oh, junior year, that's the hardest year!" After hearing that so often, I feared this particular year prior to entering high school. The horrors of a year crammed with constant tests, quizzes, overwhelming amounts of homework, essays, extreme stress, are more so than in any other grade. This is the year a 16- or 17-year-old is pressured to form plans for adulthood and navigate high stakes exams like the SAT, ACT and AP tests. These test scores help determine our college destiny. This is why adding on required state tests on top of all these other tests is unnecessary, especially with college entrance exams already haunting us this year.

Today's students are overtested. According to a survey conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools, students take an average of 113 standardized tests between preschool and 12th grade, with 11th grade (junior year) being the most tested group. Here in Oregon, in third grade through eighth grade, students take yearly standardized tests in English language arts and math. Science and social science testing is added in during fifth and eighth grades. There is plenty of testing and time in the lower grades to help students who are not meeting testing standards.

In reality, the phrase "standardized test" is a misnomer. Dozens of states now create their own tests, rather than purchase tests from a private test-selling company.

In fact, Oregon is among only nine states that purchase the Smarter Balanced test to administer to high school students. Instead, the most widely used standardized test that states give to juniors is the college entrance exam — the SAT or ACT. If Oregon is looking to measure its students academic abilities relative to the rest of the nation, it should eliminate the extra testing and stress for juniors and rely instead on the college entrance exams, like many other states.

— Claire Petersen,

Lakeridge High School

It is what it isSPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Olivia Weng

Standardized testing is mundane, tiring and repetitive. But it wasn't always like that. Back in elementary school, even middle school, OAKS testing (a standardized test) was almost exciting. We were taking big official tests and we all strove for that satisfaction of receiving a good score. After we finished, it seemed like such a big accomplishment — a change from a normal school day.

I, however, have long lost that attitude toward standardized tests. They aren't new anymore and they really are not thrilling. Tests like Smarter Balanced and OAKS are long, not particularly difficult, and mentally exhausting. As for the standardized tests we receive at school for classes, I do not feel a particular hate or love for them. It has become such a common way of testing that I've become used to it.

High school really is a difficult four years. We're all tired, stressed and sleep deprived. So when faced with yet another long standardized test with Smarter Balanced, my initial reaction is only irritated resignation. More testing? Really? Smarter Balanced itself is hours long and there aren't many benefits for the student. There isn't anything 'new' that's learned and it doesn't advance our understanding in learning. This particular test just requires a lot of sitting in a chair and answering questions.

For a test like Smarter Balanced, staring at a computer for hours on end quickly exhausts my eyes, which in turn makes me feel a complete loss of energy. Furthermore, classes must be stopped for this testing, which may seem nice at first, but then this just wastes instructional time.

This year, Smarter Balanced testing hasn't really been a topic of contention among the students. Actually, it's not a topic of conversation at all, at least based on the interactions I've had. Of course no one wants to do it, and of course no one is willingly going to take it by their own choice if it has no positive or negative effect on their future.

But standardized tests aren't going to completely ruin us. Sure it's exhausting and time consuming, and the thought makes me frown, but this is just one of the many things we have to go through. Honestly, standardized tests like Smarter Balanced aren't important enough for me to spend too much time dwel-ling on. I'll have to take this test in March. I'm not excited, but in the end, it'll just become a more tiring week than usual when it does roll around.

— Olivia Weng,

Lake Oswego High School

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