In Praise of Standardized Tests and Those of Us Who Grade Them
I do a lot of things. One of those things is grading standardized tests at home online. I sit on the couch next to the cat and I get paid to read. I do this for hours pretty much every single week of the year. In doing so, I become someone teachers, parents and students alike love to hate.
You know what? Their hatred is wrong. My role in the educational system is just as important as theirs. I perform one of the most important tasks of anyone in our society. I am a gatekeeper. In doing so, I validate their work and as serve as a necessary check up for our children.
Once upon a time I taught. When I was teaching, I was subject to constant pressure about grades. At one point, I was literally forced to raise the grades of a child with a fifty average. She was a nice child, a sweet little girl but she knew no more about seventh grade American history than a cat knows about the Declaration of Independence. I was ordered by the assistant principal to pass her on the grounds that she was already getting help. She wasn’t the only student with a grade that did not match her true academic abilities. I was also allowed to lower the grades of another student. He had a 95 average. But he was a pain in the ass. He was uncooperative and rude. So instead of the high grade he deserved, he got a 75 because I gave him a lousy grade for classwork.
This happened again and again and again in the years that I taught. It was a common experience among my fellow teachers.
This went on many times. As students we all know this happens. We’ve all done it. We’ve all conned a teacher into giving us a higher grade than we deserved with a smile or a bit of pleading. Many of us have also failed to get the grade we deserved because we didn’t hand in a few pieces of homework or frankly the teacher just didn’t like our behavior. Grades are changeable and always have been. They’re less the written in stone thing we like to pretend, less the totally fair measure we like to believe and far more based on a whim than we dare admit.
As a test reader, none of that factors in. I don’t give a damn that the person taking the test is sweet and kind. I also don’t give a damn that the test taker is a brat. That is not my problem nor my concern. I read what’s on the page. That’s all I do. That is the purest form of assessment possible and the fairest.
I don’t know you. I’ve never met you. You cannot charm me into handing you the A- rather than the B+. You also can’t throw something at me and push that passing grade into a failure. I have no feelings at all about you.
Isn’t this how it should be? If grades are going to mean so much in our society, shouldn’t they be given under the fairest conditions possible? Shouldn’t the person assigning the score have no agenda at all? I have no assistant principal breathing down my neck and watching my grades. I have no father calling to demand that I hand his little darling a better grade or he will sue me. All I have is what’s on the page in front of me and nothing else.
I understand the criticism. Our students probably spend too much time in test preparation. But how is what I do any different than a test given in a class?
Think about what I’m doing now. Here I am. You have never met me. Yet, here I am communicating with you with in writing. You know my name but almost nothing else about me. That is the magic of writing. The writer conveys their thoughts and feelings to the reader. All the writer has are words. Yet it is enough. Isn’t that an amazing skill? Shouldn’t we demand that all our kids be capable of this?
That’s what I help find out. I sit here and I let you know if your child can write well enough to meet a certain standard. I give you the feedback of an utterly disinterested observer with no outside agenda. I am a gatekeeper. A proud, necessary, important gatekeeper. What else can a parent, teacher or student possibly want?