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Sid Clarke PB Teen Columnist.

There's an art to test taking.

Rule No. 1: When in doubt — highlight stuff in the document. That way, it will at least look like you read it.

Rule No. 2: Use an approved No. 2 pencil. Nobody's actually proved it, but the rumor is if you use .7 lead, they hold you back a year.

Rule No. 3: Even as carpal tunnel sets in, select your answer with care. Do not mark outside the circle, but make sure you fill it in completely.

Rule No. 4: Remember that you will be quarantined in the testing room for several hours. Go to the bathroom before the test begins and bring a book to read afterwards. There's a difficult way to test, and an excruciating way to test.

We go through the routine each spring, every year. Teachers spend time with their students reviewing endless practice questions and discussing testing strategies for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs). Parents receive pleasant emails reminding them to make sure their child gets adequate sleep and breakfast before D-Day, the moment of truth; testing day.

On testing day, kids file into their seats with the suggested number of sharpened pencils, brand-new erasers, and worried faces. After weeks of hype, children of all ages nervously anticipate the test to come.

Ironically, the score they receive will not be delivered for at least another six months and has minimal value to the student. The MCAs are a ruler to measure understanding in specific concepts. It rates each individual against their peers and is used for the placement of classes. However, universities and employers do not have access to state test results.

So why is there an entire section at Barnes and Noble dedicated to test prep books? On one shelf, you'll find testing practice for fourth graders, review for AP Chemistry exams and SAT practice books.

Despite emotional fallacies, the world has incredibly logical tendencies. We love numbers, facts and hard data. The way adults see it, test scores are a perfect way organize human beings into graphs. These charts aim to distinguish the smartest students from the ones who need help. Testing results rank the highest quality schools and states from those who lack.

The testing data seems to be fairly solid, but it represents a volatile, fluid group of people whose performance is based on many uncontrolled variables. The date of each test (which changes from year to year) greatly affects testing scores: An earlier test leaves less opportunity for preparation.

Similarly, other case-dependent factors such as exhaustion, environmental distractions, and familiarity with testing material changes students' results. It's simply futile to summarize a year of knowledge based on performance during a two-hour testing period.

Let's talk about the phrase "standardized testing." As students, we hear it a lot: The words go in one ear and out the other.

Webster lists two relevant definitions for the term "standardize": to cause something to conform, and to determine properties of comparison by a standard.

Testing itself is built to deter individuality and construct fear of diversity. Conformity beliefs have been causing trouble since the origin of race and religion. Why force children into a situation in which they must prove their alikeness on a scale; why teach them to become the possession of a number representing their worth?

Standardized testing is nothing more than a labeling machine. The test isn't teaching, it's making a name tag so that each kid wears on their shirt whether they "Exceed the Standards," "Do Not Meet the Standards," or fall somewhere in the spectrum between.

Sidney Clarke is a sophomore at Mayo High School. To respond to an opinion column, send an email to life@postbulletin.com.

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