A dive deeper into whether or not standardized tests do diligence to their overarching purpose

Standardized testing has become one of the most influential predictors of a student’s future in many parts of the world. At the same time, it is one of the most discussed aspects in the field of education. Should they be abolished? What are the mental health effects of standardized tests? The opinions on this controversial topic vary, and decisions made by universities today clearly have the power to completely change the world of post-secondary education forever.

   

If a high school student chooses to pursue a post-secondary education, especially when applying to schools in the United States, tests like the SAT play a great deal in their chances of acceptance. According to Harvard University’s website, they have an average acceptance rate of about 4.6%. Applicants who score less than 1400 out of the 1600 total points, “wouldn’t be a competitive candidate” according to Capexx, a pathways research website. 

Standardized testing is used all over the world as a way to measure the intellectual prowess of students. With competitive applicants at each school, standardized testing provides schools with numerical information about each student. The way that the tests are designed varies from place to place, but the fundamental concept is to test students using core concepts that were taught in the past. This system of testing can be unfair to many students when it comes to accessibility. “Some kids cannot afford to get a study guide or a tutor to help prepare. This poses many inequalities and can probably affect test outcomes,” says Ryann, a grade 8 student in the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) who took the SSATs this year. “This could severely widen the gap,” she added. It is proven by many sources that having financial access to additional support for preparing for a standardized test can increase your chances of doing well. One example of this is the process of superscoring. Superscoring is the process where college admissions staff look at students’ combined SAT scores, if the student took the test twice. For instance if you scored 700 in math the first time and then scored 600 on the second attempt- your superscore would be 1300. According to Us News, taking the SAT’s costs money and for those who are not financially well off, superscoring might not be an opportunity they can take advantage of. 

A new Netflix documentary titled Operation Varsity Blues dives deeper into one of the biggest fraud cases in U.S. university history. Lori Loughlin, from Full House, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, took advantage of their financial privilege to bribe schools to admit their children. Despite this situation being illegal, it is a prime example of how financial freedom can give you an edge in an environment that should be based solely on merit. 

In the United States, students’ SAT scores largely impact which universities will admit them. In the Netherlands, standardized testing begins as early as 4th grade and determines which high schools students can enter. Standardized testing makes it difficult for some students to pursue their interests if they have a different way of expressing their intellectual abilities or problem-solving skills. “These tests don’t show who you really are,” says Ryann. “They make you feel like you are your score when really in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make a huge difference in your life.” 

Standardized testing rewards students for having a good long-term memory, and often does not acknowledge creativity or hard work. As well, not all people are built to do well on tests, including many with independent education plans. Students who struggle to do well on tests because of anxiety or poor long-term memory can start thinking of themselves as unintelligent. “These tests are not designed to measure a student’s overall brilliance, and what we really should do is look at the big picture,” Ryann adds. 

Ryann shared her personal experience applying to a Toronto Private school in which an interview was an integral part of the admissions process, counting for about 50%. Kareena, a grade 9 student from the Peel District School Board, and Muskan, a grade 10 student from Arkansas, United States, agreed that educators and allies need to find better, more efficient ways to measure students’ potential. 

Moreover, test anxiety can alter one’s success on standardized tests. According to an article published by one of the biggest tutoring companies in the world, Oxford Learning, over 10.8 million students across North America suffer from anxiety. Anyone can suffer from test anxiety; from some of the highest achieving students to those who are the least prepared. Kareena spoke about her experience in grade 6 when she felt “scared [before a test], and a sense that maybe [she] didn’t know everything [she] needed to.” She described her classroom, a place she normally enjoyed, becoming a space of pressure and stress. “If people don’t have a suitable work environment it will be harder to take and perform well on tests,” she explained. She also related this to the barriers some students may face when it comes to preparing for the test. “I am very fortunate to have a great workspace to complete school and study for tests. I believe that families and people that are less fortunate will possibly have a harder time during and studying for tests.”

There are so many ways we can look at the value of standardized tests. While standardized tests sometimes identify students that are more likely to excel in their program, they also create unnecessary stress and limit the evaluator’s ability to investigate the true essence and potential of a student. Perhaps standardized tests should be kept, but changed to challenge educators to look far deeper than the little mark on a paper.

This was an article I co-wrote with Arissa Roy for my school newspaper which you can find here. All feedback is welcome.

What has happened students’ relationships and friendships while attending school during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Learning has changed drastically this school year due to the pandemic, and schools in Ontario have been converted into a hybrid learning system. This hybrid learning system lets students go to school 2-3 times a week and gives them a chance to socialize at least a little bit and get taught face to face. Having contact with other students is very important for mental health. But is going to school actually helping us socialize as much as it should?

For grade 9 students socializing and making friends during the pandemic has been incredibly hard. When you are new at a school, making friends is already difficult, but add to that a pandemic that doesn’t let people get within 6 feet of each other. That makes it all the more difficult. Some students feel isolated and alone, without anyone to talk to.

In such a situation many classes are not doing things like icebreakers to let the students get to know each other. Students also only get one break of 10-15 minutes, in which they are allowed to talk to each other. Contact information is usually only given for group projects (of which there are few) and almost no one talks to each other outside of a school context. This is of course different for students in other grades, because most of them already have friends from previous school years and don’t need to make new ones. This also goes for a small group of grade 9 students, but very few of them actually end up in classes with old friends.

The problem though isn’t only making friends, but what to do with friends outside of school. Considering the fact that students can basically only talk to other students outside, there isn’t much motivation for making friends. People can’t come into your house, and you can’t do other activities like going to the movies or eating out. Especially during the winter months, when people can’t talk for a long time outside, many students’ mental health is deteriorating.

On the flip side, this does make students appreciate their time at school more. The small amount of social interaction that happens during breaks and after school can be what keeps students from going completely insane. Although it’s nothing compared to what it once was, it can be liberating to be able to talk to people after having had no social interaction for days at a time. 

The social aspect of going to school is one thing, but what about the educational aspect? If students get behind in school, and don’t understand things and get bad grades, that leads to more anxiety and a worse mental state. Even though most of our time is spent online, the small part that is in person is essential to learning well, as it provides an environment where it’s easier to ask small questions and where teachers can teach without the barrier that online school provides. 

Hopefully everything will be back to normal soon, but until then students will have to do with a hybrid school system like we have now. Fortunately going to school can improve the mental health of many students due it providing a way to socialize and a way to learn more efficiently without the distractions of technology. If students need help or support for mental health issues, there are resources available, and many of them are listed on the official TDSB website.

The Story Behind The Viral Sea Shanty Wellerman

If you are ever on the internet you have most likely seen renditions of the sea shanty/ballad Wellerman recently. It’s really cool how many people contributed to this random song and it sounds amazing, but Wellerman was a song with a story well before it went viral on the internet. The song’s lyrics describe a ship hunting for the “right whale”. The captain is set on catching it, but the crew has been out on the seas for a long time and wants to go home. This is determined by the lyrics “the Wellerman makes his regular call to encourage the captain, crew and all”.

The viral 'Wellerman' sea shanty is also a window into the remarkable  cross-cultural whaling history of Aotearoa New Zealand

The song was sung by the crews of men on New Zealand whaling boats from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. The whalers got paid with clothing, tobacco, and alcohol instead of money.  The chorus states “soon may the wellerman come, to bring us sugar and tea and rum”, so the men hoped that an employee of the Weller brothers (a provisions company) would bring them supplies and luxuries.

The crew also sings about wanting to get out of the whaling business, because it was a dangerous and hard job, for which they were paid very little for. The problem was that it was very hard to leave it because there was extreme poverty and most of the men couldn’t afford to look for another job. The lines “one day when the toungin’ is done, we’ll take our leave and go” explain that the crew wants to leave after they are done tonguing, a word used to describe the act of cutting strips of whale to make oil. In conclusion the song Wellerman symbolizes the experience of New Zealand whalers, and their reliance on the Wellermen.

My 2020 Reading List Part 1: The Cytonic Series

I will be starting a new series of blog posts talking about all of the books I have read in the time between 2020 and 2021. I won’t talk about every book separately if they are part of a series, instead just talking about the whole series. In every post I will review one book/series, whether I recommend it, and my criteria.

Skyward Audiobook by Brandon Sanderson - 9781409167389 | Rakuten Kobo New  Zealand
The Cytonic Series

This is meant to be a four book series, but so far only the first two have been released, with the third being released somewhere in 2021. As you may have noticed this books is by Brandon Sanderson, a writer I have mentioned in my other book reviews as one of my favourites. Unlike many of his other series this one has it’s own standalone universe and is not interconnected with his other books. This series takes place in Sci-Fi world that is assumed to be far in the future and the target audience is young adults.

Summary: 17 year old Spensa is part of a tribe of shipwrecked humans on the ruined planet of Detritus. The planet is under constant attack from an mysterious alien civilization called the Krell. To combat the Krell, the people of Detritus constructed a special air force unit called the Defiant Defence Force (DDF). Spensa has always wanted to follow in her fathers footsteps to become a DDF pilot, but because her father fled from a battle, she is branded a cowards daughter, and everyone makes it exceedingly difficult for her while she tries to become a pilot.

Criteria: The character development in this series is not as good as in other series by Brandon Sanderson, as the characters don’t have very complex and exciting changes. The characters themselves, on the other hand, are very interesting and diverse. They have many different and personalities and quirks. The world building is absolutely fantastic. At first glance it seems like a relatively small world with few interesting aspects, but Sanderson hints at huge secrets right from the start. You will be completely hooked by this series, and will always be on the edge of your seat. The world kept getting bigger and bigger, as more secrets come to light. While Sanderson’s writing style is very good, I don’t think it is at the level of other fantasy authors like Patrick Rothfuss or Neil Gaiman. His writing isn’t as nuanced or complex, but he manages to encompass his vast worlds and magic systems perfectly, in his own style.

Social media and mental health P.2

Cyberbullying is not just an issue on social media though, it’s also a huge problem in the gaming community. There are always toxic players no matter what game you’re playing. There are billions of reports by gamers claiming verbal harassment by other players. Sexism is omnipresent in this community and targeted towards females. Females will get verbally harassed using sexist slurs and most commonly will be told that women cannot play video games. This is one of the reasons that you will see fewer females than males on gaming platforms. These bullies in online games are commonly referred to as “griefers”. There are two ways that griefers will attack. The first is in random situations where they see you in-game and harass/bully for the duration of the game, then leave you alone afterwards. The second is less common but more persistent: the griefer will constantly harass the victim with toxic messages and track them down on other games, even to the point that it transitions into real-life bullying. 

Ways to prevent the first type of griefers from bullying you in online games is to turn off in-game chat messages and to basically just ignore them. To prevent the second type of griefers you have to make sure to stay anonymous while gaming. No matter who you think someone is or how long you have been talking to them, never give personal information like your address, full name or date of birth. Unfortunately, the gaming industry does not pay very much attention to reports of verbal harassment, and players seldom get banned for cyberbullying in online games.

“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users:’ illegal drugs and social media,” as mentioned in Netflix’s new hit The Social Dilemma. This is not the only context in which social media has been discussed as being similar to drug use. An article by Addictioncenter.com looked at the relationship between drug addiction and social media addiction, and they found it is extremely similar. The scarier thing is that drugs are much less accessible than digital technology, making your screen a go-to when you are feeling down. We see children as young as four years old using cell phones and youth as young as seven using apps such as Instagram. If we don’t educate people on the dangers of this medium, the rate of severe mental health issues is going to continue to grow. 

Although we have only highlighted the negative aspects of social media there are also many positive aspects. Our survey asked students why they use social media and all respondents said: “to stay connected with friends and family”. Especially during the pandemic, we turn to technology to maintain connections. Additionally, many students said they use it to keep up with what is going on at school, follow people’s work and share messages. For instance, with digital advocacy. 

In conclusion, social media can certainly impact negatively on our moods and our sense of wellbeing, but it can also mobilize the world and bring us all closer together. Our advice is: explore (yes, through the internet) the many options you have for protecting yourself from intrusive or misleading sources and specific messages. For example, turn off notifications, unfollow people who have nothing useful to contribute to your thoughts and beliefs, and set times to be online and times to be offline. 

Social media and mental health

Tik Tok, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit… these shape the parameters of our lives. They connect us when we feel isolated, bored or lonely. This has been particularly evident during the COVID-19 crisis. But how does the usage of these platforms affect our mental/emotional health? 

Within social media and the internet at large, there are several issues that many people face. In an anonymous survey we conducted about social media use at NT, 60% of respondents said that they have experienced hate such as racism and homophobia online. Another large issue is Cyberbullying. Almost everybody in our generation has experienced it in some form. Besides the fact that it’s online, it has one fundamental difference from normal bullying: anonymity. On the internet, you can say and do whatever you want without fear of real-life consequences. For many social media stars such as Lilly Singh, a South Asian Canadian YouTuber, Comedian, Talk Show Host, and actress, dealing with random people commenting on something shared happens almost every minute. In one of Lilly’s videos, she explained how she chooses to ignore them as she knows whoever is writing them is probably not doing so well.  

“Social media skews your perspective of the world,” says a respondent to the survey.“It is toxic to see a fabricated version of everyone’s lives,”  says another. Social media has become a place where perfection is perceived as reality. People all around the world spend hours looking at online feeds and for many, this means making unconscious comparisons to other people’s so-called real life. This can often result in depression and anxiety, which can progress to clinical levels. As discussed in an article by “New York Post” more people die taking selfies than in shark attacks. We feel that we must show people what an incredible life we have, even if that means taking big risks.

As with my posts on systemic racism huge credit to Arissa Roy who wrote half of this article. She also does lots of interesting things so check out her Twitter or YouTube to see more of her work.

The importance of a good education in underdeveloped countries P.2

For about 7-8 months (depending on what country you live in) many countries have been forced to quarantine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. For many Western countries this was not a huge problem when it came to education. Of course it was compromised but it could still keep going online and in many countries it has significantly improved since the summer. But as you can imagine in very poor countries almost nobody has a device that they can attend online school with.

This has huge consequences for the education system in these countries because now the kids aren’t even getting a minimal education and, in the long run, this could have big repercussions for the economy. Imagine a whole generation of children who are over a year behind in schooling. Especially for kids in later grades it would be much harder then it already is to get a job that is not in the category of unskilled labour.

You can better the economy and the education system in underdeveloped countries by donating to some of these very good organizations. The BOMA Project helps better the lives of women in underdeveloped countries as well as giving them a 2-year “poverty program” which teaches them how to run small businesses. UNICEF is a very well known organization that provides aid to underdeveloped countries in many ways and one of the humanitarian issues that they aim to fix is the education system. A huge part of Save the Children is dedicated to improving teachers in developing countries as well as building more schools and providing school supplies. These are among many organizations that you can donate to, to help fix the education in these countries and I hope that this post has inspired you to do so.

The importance of good education in underdeveloped countries P.1

One thing that defines underdeveloped countries is poverty. Another is bad education. correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation but I think that these two things go hand in hand with each other. Many underdeveloped countries are stuck in positive feedback loop of becoming more and more poor. If a country has very little money it means that it also has less money for school an education in general.

If there is worse education kids won’t grow up and get high paying jobs that stimulate the economy. If the economy doesn’t get stimulated the country becomes poorer. In this case the economy should be getting worse but a main factor in helping these countries are large contributions from the UN as well as individual non-profit organizations. But even with this much help is not enough for the economy to get back on track and actually start improving by itself.

Poor School | Crianças pobres, Escola, Imagem criança

Countries like India or Columbia don’t even have enough elementary schools for the kids in their countries never mind high schools or universities. Even in the places where the kids do go to school the schools can’t afford proper school supplies or even teachers. Countries like Niger or South Sudan have over 70% illiteracy with people over fifteen. In the next post in this series I will highlight ways that individuals like yourself can help this problem as well as going over the effect that Covid-19 has had with education in underdeveloped countries.

How systemic racism has been an issue for far too long. P3

Police Brutality. A key term in our vocabulary when describing this topic. And unlike some of our other comparisons, this is one of them in which both movements are similar. You would think that because of the vast time difference among the two movements, protocols would change but when talking about law enforcement, it’s almost as if we are living in a time warp. Back then nobody was surprised when police behaviour was excessively violent. But unreasonable force, rubber bullets, and tear gas towards protesters is still used in this day and age. The black lives matter movement strives to stop law enforcement from fighting against protesters. Rather, they should sympathize, and come together to fight for justice. There is no reason why we need violence, and in fact, it is just adding “fuel to the fire”. Law enforcers should ask themselves how people must feel, and put themselves in their shoes. 

what can people do to support the black lives matter movement? Get involved with or donate to bail funds, volunteer at one of the countless organizations working to bring equality to the world, support black owned businesses, and of course try to educate yourself on the movement as a whole. Fred Clark provided some advice: “It’s important to support organizations that help the black lives matter movement. You can’t become so angry that you lose sight of who you are as a person because anger does not rule a person in a way that is positive… A person can’t operate on hate. We can operate by being active and trying to make change in the world.”

In a survey we led alongside @ntstandup, we found that 29% of respondents in our high-school said they have experienced certain forms of racism. Although this number is high (anything above zero is) we are getting there. We know together, we can eliminate ALL forms of discrimination in our school, city, and the world. Remember every act, every action, every word has the power cast ripples amongst humanity.

To learn more about this, there are many resources you can find online but here are some:

https://blacklivesmatter.ca

https://nowtoronto.com/news/black-organizations-toronto-donate

The black lives matter movement and the civil rights movement have many similarities as well as many differences. These two movements highlighted and confronted the horrors of race discrimination in different ways. Skin colour has been used to define people’s rights and the results continue to be unacceptable. As Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that one day my 4 little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. After 57 years this dream has yet to be fulfilled.

Once again huge thanks to Arissa Roy for writing half of this article. In the hyperlink you will find her twitter with a lot of her work, so definitely check her out!

How systemic racism has been an issue for far too long. P2

I forgot to explain this in the first post in this series but the posts in this series are excerpts from an article I wrote together with Arissa Roy (link at the bottom) for a school newspaper.

When Reflecting on the demographic of protesters involved in each of these movements, we can easily see a big difference in many variables including age, race, and gender. During the civil rights movement, many individuals who took to the streets were middle aged black men, as opposed to the current BLM movement in which you see people from all walks of life supporting. This indicates that education has been improved, social change has been made, and we are beginning to share fundamental goals, but the underlying problem is still present in our society. 

How can we connect and share these goals? When comparing the civil rights movement to the black lives matter movement, one of the key distinctions is the way in which people share information and communicate. According to https://www.theguardian.com the average person spends upwards of 3 hours on their phone per day, and much of that on social media apps. As mentioned on the new netflix film “the Social Dilemma”, social media is changing the way we act, think, and operate our lives, so there’s no surprise to think it’s changing the way we advocate for justice. Remember Blackout Tuesday? You know, endless amounts of plain black screens showing up on your feeds. Yep, this is just one example of how technology is at the forefront of the fight. Even more importantly the “Black lives matter” movement was started after footage of police killings of black people were shared. In this day and age we have cameras that record police brutality and racial bias. But back when mobile phones didn’t exist, word of mouth was a primary way that black people told their stories. In the interview we did with Dr. Fred Clark, he said that the main way that people would receive information about events during the civil rights movement was by radio and newspaper. This means that everything people heard was biased and filtered material. Although this was the case, one thing that we’ve realized now is that even with undeniable evidence condemning the perpetrators of police brutality, somehow they manage to get away with their crimes without so much as blemish on their record. 

The media in the time of the civil rights movement was very different then the media we have today, and this isn’t just because they didn’t have social media. It was much harder to try to start a movement in the 20th century then now. There was no social media and normal people couldn’t share whatever they wanted with the world. Newspapers couldn’t just publish something written by or supporting a black person. Many cities in the North of the U.S had their own black newspapers. These newspapers were written and read by black people. The problem was that information about the civil rights movement couldn’t reach the South. Important white people would threaten and punish newspapers distributors that wanted to distribute anything about the civil rights movement and injustices done to black people. The start of the civil rights movement was also when television was coming to the U.S. Black people in the North were blocked from broadcasting news, so that they couldn’t spread their message to the south. This meant that for a while the civil rights movement was exclusive to the North. In the later 20th century recordings and pictures of social injustices were finally circulated on television and the south became aware of the civil rights movement. Because of this the movement gained traction and change finally started to happen.

Once again huge thanks to Arissa Roy for writing half of this article. In the hyperlink you will find her twitter with a lot of her work, so definitely check her out!