The Hunger Games as a metaphor for high stakes standardized testing

The Hunger Games as a metaphor for high stakes standardized testing

I made this Hunger Games graphic yesterday for use in an upcoming presentation on choice that I’ll be giving to the freshman class at my high school.

The graphic was meant to poke a little fun at testing in general. After all, they will have just completed the MCA Grad Writing test.

Then, I thought about it a bit more. The Hunger Games is actually a pretty fitting metaphor for high stakes standardized testing. Granted, there’s a big difference between testing and blood sport, but the similarities start becoming to eerie to ignore.

Vague spoilers of the first Hunger Games book/movie ahead. Read at your own risk.

So, the “Games” are a relic from a past age – something first deemed useful 75 years ago – used to let people know their proper place.  It is mandated by the capitol – people who are generally disconnected from the world the children occupy and who are not personally affected by the successes or failures of the individual competitors, but they enjoy the theater and the formalities, thinking they can relate. They gain from the suffering of the participants.

The tests are sometimes used to inspire fear, and students are anxious about them.

The disadvantaged are more likely to be humiliated by the test. The children compete by District (I come from District 877). The performers are trotted out in front of the world, for judgement, their strengths and weaknesses are made public. The ill-prepared can find something familiar within the games that they can latch on to, something they can connect with to give them a chance to thrive. Sometimes, they are empty-handed.

Some children are groomed for the games their whole lives. They relish the games. Others have to learn by doing, always fearing they don’t have what it takes as they scramble to keep up with those who have been better prepared for the sport. In order to make up for their lack of prestige, they must develop other talents that make them remarkable and fight harder to be noticed and appreciated.

The test takers don’t understand the purpose of the test beyond what adults tell them. They form alliances. They perform because they have to, not because they want to.

In the end, some of the people that spend their lives preparing for the games realize they have
nothing without the game.

Finally, even those who are successful continue to be a part of the system and any sort of rebellion is punished.

Still, there are some remarkable people that win despite the game. There are great mentors who help by believing in what they do and the people they serve. There are people who use the game in their favor.

These guys did okay by using the stage the game provided in their favor.

Although President Snow used it for the wrong reasons, teachers do need to remember that hope is stronger than fear. Once students lose hope that they can become more than a test score or GPA, they lose some of what it takes to become truly remarkable.

Am I going to share this message of discouragement with the freshmen next week? No. They need something else entirely. I’d rather focus on building hope and saving dreams.

Tests are a constant part of our reality and a real concern to us as teachers. Some mentors are burnt out by seeing so many of their players lose to the game. It’s easy to lose sight of purpose.

As teachers, it’s important to remember that we’re still in the business of cultivating dreams, even when it seems like we should be doing anything but that.

May the odds one day be in our favor.

PS: The Hunger Games uses a 12 point scale to grade their Tributes, just as teachers often use a 12-point scale for students in the form of letter grades. If contestants need help converting their training scores to a 4-point scale for college applications, this link may be helpful.

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  • Caroline Persons

    Not to mention