A Contradiction – Editorial, Issue 3 – Volume CXII

How Should Parker Balance Progressive Education With Standardized Testing?


On October 12, grades nine through 11 sat down for the PSAT or practice ACT. For many Parker students, this was their first or among their first experiences with standardized tests. Which begs the question: if standardized tests are so important to one’s future (especially college), how should Parker balance its ‘progessive’ philosophy with their responsibility to expose students to these assessments? 

Despite Parker’s teaching philosophy, there is no doubt that standardized tests pervade Parker students’ lives in a significant way. Standardized tests are largely an inaccurate measure of one’s more holistic abilities, however, they still play a large role in students’ futures. During junior and senior years, a majority of students will spend many hours sitting in gyms taking tests which will play a role in determining where they go to college. Beyond that, many will have to take more standardized tests to enter grad school or to officially be part of a certain group of professionals. In fact, to get into Parker, one has to take a standardized test. 

Despite their relevance, taking standardized tests isn’t often done at Parker. This is understandable as they’re not great measures of one’s intelligence. But taking the test is a skill. A skill that’s lacking amongst Parker students. 

When students go to take standardized tests, in their later years at Parker or beyond, they are put at more of a disadvantage than if they had more practice with the skill. Not only do standardized tests become more challenging to students, they pose more anxiety and discomfort. This gap is far from insurmountable, however, one of the major ways students overcome this gap is through tutoring which presents a huge equity issue.  Many students go to the Parker College Counseling-recommended tutoring agency, Academic Approach which has very steep prices. While many would still tutor if they’d had more experience, there’d be less need and often, panic for it.

But what should be done? Increasing the frequency of standardized testing can be beneficial, especially if it starts younger. Many may grumble and moan, however, taking a few hours each year for one of these tests would be beneficial in the long run even if the school chooses not to use the results as a metric for anything.

We spoke to Middle and Intermediate School Head Vahn Phayprasert about how much standardized testing the middle school will be doing this year. In the past, sixth grade has been the only grade that takes the test but this year, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades will be taking standardized tests.

Phayprasert agreed that traditional standardized testing is not compatible with Progressive Education. However, they will be proctoring the tests as a means of gauging how students are doing as far as proficiency “specific to student’s individual achievement level” in math and English language arts (ELA). This, along with other evaluations and Parker-specific assessments, will help provide as full of a picture as possible of a student’s “academic profile.” “We’re not here to teach to the test, so for us, we’re using it so that we can understand and have another data point,” Phayprasert said.

“The Weekly” thinks that this reasoning makes a lot of sense but would like to add to the list of positive impacts of this testing that students will become more comfortable with it. These tests seem like they will not be used to assess students as much as to learn where they are at, so the stakes will be low for the middle schoolers. Even with low stakes, these middle schoolers will get the chance to sit at a desk for several hours, fill in hundreds of little circles, and feel those butterflies in their stomachs. We are not education specialists, but we would guess that these experiences will prove extremely beneficial for students when they face the real tests in high school.

Secondly, more in-house test prep for the ACT/SAT would be beneficial. Oftentimes, these tutoring programs can be cost prohibitive. Although free programs such as Khan Academy are available online, they often are difficult to use especially because of the way Parker teaches grammar and math. The support from the school can be in the form of guidance of how to use the free resources available, currently, college counseling offers little in the way of guidance about test prep, or providing test prep.

As is evidenced by Parker’s impressive annual matriculation list, Parker students have no trouble getting into good colleges. Parker’s lack of standardized testing is obviously not getting in the way of very much admissions success. However, the college process could be made less anxiety inducing and more equitable if Parker were to bolster its integrated standardized testing preparation.