Daily Archives: October 21, 2006

Unathletic: The Problem with Standardized Testing


According to the standardized tests that were used on me physically for gym class in school, I was decidedly unathletic.

I could not do a single pull-up, therefore I lacked upper body strength. I could not run the mile, therefore I lacked endurance. I could not bend my arms past my legs a certain amount, therefore I lacked flexibility. I could not do a very specific test of running back and forth after a target (that required a lot of rapid turning and stopping and starting), therefore I lacked agility.

I took for granted all of these things for a long time, because they were what had been said about me.

Take a look at these photographs.

Kid standing by the ocean

Tell the kid who hiked across a mountain range to the ocean, who could walk as far as she wanted to without getting particularly tired, that she lacks endurance.

Kid standing very high up in a tree

Tell the kid who scrambles rapidly up trees and balances easily on fences and rooftops that she lacks agility and arm strength. (By the way, with regards to arm strength, my father used to lift very heavy weights but could never do a pullup either.)

Kid climbing a tree with legs in a very flexible position

And tell… uh… a kid who can bend her legs into that position, that she’s just not flexible enough. And tell this kid, in general, that she’s unathletic.

I spent years believing that I had no flexibility. I found out later that my arms are so short proportionally that there’s no way a standardized test could measure flexibility that way by standardized means. One of my friends was shocked to hear I thought I was not flexible. She told me that people who are not flexible, cannot step on their own head the way I can.

I spent years believing I had no agility, despite the evidence that when a situation triggers me into action, rather than consciously doing things, I can still do some pretty incredible feats of agility even though the rest of the time I have to use a wheelchair for more conscious movement.

I found these photographs while I was looking for something else (which I’ll post some other time). But I think they prove a really interesting point about how much standardized testing will tell you about a person, physically or cognitively. It’s not that there’d be anything bad about me if they were right, but boy were they ever wrong.

By the way, I got the lowest score possible on the communication section of a standardized test last year. I’ll let my blog speak for itself.