In the last 11 years, the number of federally mandated tests in our nation's public schools has nearly tripled.
Principals, teachers, and students all feel the pressure of these high-stakes exams.
"If a school does not make adequate yearly progress for several years in a row," according to Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, "a school can be reconstituted, which means the staff is replaced."
Many states have additional consequences for students. Schaeffer says they use test scores for "grade promotion, gifted-and-talented promotion, graduation (about half the states have exit exams), and scholarship aid."
Twelve-year-old Zion knows how important these tests are for his future—and the future of his school. "It's a big test," he says.
His story is captured in I Am Education: Kids Tell All, a five-part video series about the state of public education in America. In the videos, we hear from the actual kids affected by our troubled school system.
"When I'm about to bubble in the answer, I hope I don't get it wrong," Zion says.
The fifth-grader attends Micheltorena Elementary in Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood. His school has made a positive transformation in the last few years, but many students struggle with testing.
"We went up nine consecutive years and then we took a drop, and we're still not quite where we were before the drop," Micheltorena principal Susanna Furfari says.
Furfari says she understands, "that you have to have some measure of a school if it's failing." But she feels testing should be seen as just one measure of achievement instead of the only indicator. "Of course, we want our APIs to go up," she says, "but that doesn't really feel like a measure of what we're doing. We're doing a lot of things well."
"The tests," Zion echoes, "don't define who you are."