These past weeks have been absolutely draining for our country. Teachers are now being forced to balance their personal and work life, students are no longer able to escape a negative home environment, and families like mine who have members in the essential work force worry constantly. The bottom line is that these upcoming weeks are going to be full of continuous adjustments, and we must respond to them whether we like it or not.

One example: the COVID-19 pandemic has truly influenced the way students, teachers, parents, and officials view America’s education system. Most notably, rather than my “last” day of in-person learning being awash with cries of sorrow by my peers, the students at my school celebrated. Isn’t it a bit bizarre that so many of us students were overcome with relief knowing that our normal curriculum was altered due to a global pandemic?

Students have been deeply hardwired to believe that their grades and test scores define them. I’m guilty of this myself; this mindset is incredibly easy to drown in. With the immense pressure put on us by parents, society’s definition of success, and even ourselves, many of my peers have viewed online learning as a blessing instead of a worldwide tragedy.

A handful of colleges not requiring SAT or ACT testing for admissions has truly planted a seed of thought in many: did these tests have any true significance in the first place? Sure, kudos to the individuals that scored a 30 on the ACT or a 1500 SAT composite score. But is it fair for educational quality to be measured through a student’s performance on these standardized achievement tests? Standardized testing can be broken down into two core kinds of standardized tests:
1. Achievement tests: These tests are designed to ultimately measure a student’s skills in specific fields of knowledge in relation to the other students in the same grade or the same age across the nation.
2. Aptitude tests: which are supposed to demonstrate how well a student will succeed in an educational setting. For instance, the SAT and the ACT try to predict how well high school students will perform in college.

These exams may seem like a snazzy way to ultimately weed out those who would adapt quite well to the college-level learning environment. However, I think that we need to step away from numbers. Standardized tests measure only a small portion of what makes education important. Especially with today’s pandemic, it’s simply unfair to judge a student based on their ability to score well on a number of tests.

Standardized tests cannot measure creativity, grit, self-discipline, integrity, genuine curiosity, empathy, or resourcefulness. They cannot measure soft skills, the skills that take more than just memorization and the regurgitation of information, the essential skills for creating trust, dependability, and leading or working in a team. It’s a wake up call to hear numerous companies and corporate empires claiming that the most desired work skill is creativity. Schools strive to prepare us for the “real” world, but our “real” world has changed, while our educational protocols have stagnated. Many of our schools still measure learning and success through values and expectations from the Industrial Age. This is because the initial intent of the education system was to prepare individuals to work in factories, hence industrial values. This mentality can be especially seen in how our school system rewards obedience and following directions. This “yes-man” mentality was key to industrial work. But today’s world emphasizes the need for one to be collaborative, communicative, and willing to think outside of the box. No longer is the focus on mass production; it’s about problem solving. Whether this be climate change or our justice system, more and more individuals are seeing the flaws and mistakes in our systems. This problem solving requires the soft skills described above. But, with a system that is based on outdated values, it sometimes feels like the world is against you. How can I be expected to gain the needed experience for soft skills like creativity when I’ve only been prepared for learning how to succeed on tests?

Much of our current education is based on memorization. Is this truly authentic learning? To be quite honest, both myself and my peers may understand the information being shoved down our throats and know a handful of facts or arguments. But right after that exam or quiz, all that information is down the drain. Learning can be much deeper than this retention and memorization! Too many students are going through the struggle of sleepless nights to cram in facts that they aren’t even going to remember the next day. During my freshman year of high school, I was a victim of a number of these sleepless nights and this unnecessary stress. I didn’t quite understand at the time that my grades do not define me. So, when I received a low score on an exam, I would tear myself apart inside out. I’ve been taught that any kind of failure is a sign of weakness, laziness, and unworthiness. This culture defines success by how well you fit a mold, your capacity to blindly memorize information, and most importantly, being “right.”

Besides exams and testing, our curriculums don’t provide the needed wiggle room for students to develop and pursue their passions. Our extremely standardized education system has created a norm where all students are taught the same, but this reality undermines the fact that we are human. We have our differences, and it’s time for us to accept this reality. Each student has their own interests and there is little room for us to get to know ourselves. With long hours of trying to absorb all the information being thrown at me, I’ve never had the time to learn what’s out there in the world and where my destiny lies.

Additionally, the way students learn has unfortunately remained antiquated. Most commonly, I will sit in a lecture and I may pay attention for the first twenty or so minutes, but at some point, I become as lost as a newborn bird who has just been thrown out of the nest to fly. Each student is different in how they learn, and our system has no true way of supporting all individuals. Some will be slower at learning than others, others may learn best through hands-on activities, and yet others may learn better through visuals. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, if your pace is not the same as the majority of the class, you’re considered a failure and are at fault. So why have we yet to see change in our education system if the research and data is there?

It’s clear that our education system isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be grateful. I think the key to tackling the following imperfections is truly taking the time to question the system. Your numbers don’t define you, but I personally know that this can be quite difficult to grasp at times. Don’t give into the pressure of being perfect and overload yourself with various classes to be viewed as successful and intelligent. Especially in high school, one needs to take time to learn about one’s self. Yes, standardized testing can be stressful and seem unfair. And yes, grades to an extent do not matter because they do not define you as a person. But this doesn’t mean to suddenly stop trying. Your best IS good enough. Go against the grain by doing whatever you have to do to learn and understand, whether this be communicating with your teachers one-on-one, looking for videos online, or even using music as a way to remember. Although learning right now is even more difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one benefit of this is the light shed on our education system’s flaws. Never be afraid to question. Our education system isn’t perfect. Don’t judge yourself on a flawed scale.
Your friendly neighborhood change agent

Lauren Kirkpatrick is a sophomore at Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington. She’s fascinated by the power of words and hopes to teach others the significance of their voices. With her ability to march to the beat of her own drum, she strives to think outside of the box to establish true change. Add in her heart of gold, impeccable dance moves, and ability to break into song at any moment and it’s clear that she’s a pretty cool human being. Lauren hopes to uplift others through her storytelling, and is inspired on the daily by the many talented writers in the Next Gen Politics family.