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Middle School Suicides Double As Common Core Testing Intensifies

Middle School Suicides Double As Common Core Testing Intensifies

Steven Singer

Here’s a high stakes testing statistic you won’t hear bandied about on the news.

The suicide rate among 10- to 14-year-olds doubled between 2007 and 2014 – the same period in which states have increasingly adopted Common Core standards and new, more rigorous high stakes tests.

Sorry, there may be arguments against “standardized testing” (even though there have always been such tests) but Mr. Singer’s argument that: “Middle school children’s brains are still growing. They are only physically able to learn certain concepts and skills, but we’re forcing them to deal with increasingly advanced and complex concepts at younger ages…” …is complete bullshit. US school students are typically two years behind their counterparts in Europe. When a US family moves to the UK, their kids get put back two grades. And want to talk about “high stakes testing” has Mr. Singer ever heard of the UK’s O levels and A-Levels and similar tests in continental Europe?

Somehow, I used to take the challenging tests when I was in grade school (including the SAT) without collapsing into an anxiety test. What has changed?

And there is no epidemic of suicides in Europe. Suicide has always been a problem in Asia due to the powerful social stigma of “losing face” in Asian culture - probably amplified by an excessive amount of peer-competition required to maintain face. It has nothing to do with demanding and challenging education systems.

US education - through even university level, is terribly dumbed-down as it is - look at the foreign students filling the ranks of science and engineering in the US. The left should have nothing to do with the snow-flakery of Mr. Singer’s writing above.

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I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. I went to school in Europe and when I came back as a Freshman in high school was able to pass my 9th, 10th and half of my 11th year of high school by examination. That said, the methodologies and pressures are completely different. Children are able to handle extremely complex topics and are highly intelligent and flexible, but those are not the qualities sought by the American system. The emphasis is on rote memorization of formulas, the approach is didactic and top-down, and the direction is to turn kids into work units for big corporations, so only certain skillsets are valued and measured. The educational narratives in the US are centered on career, work, productivity–not self-direction, joy, engagement, curiosity, etc. Hence kids leave in droves and many refuse to go back–it’s a form of prison.


Can society pass this test of common humanity?


My quarrel as to this issue is with the parents, with that “Tiger Mom” philosophy of parenting that puts so much pressure on children to meet the educational system’s success standards that, if the can’t cut t, their feel that they have failed the test of life, that their lives are worthless and the only “honorable” thing they can do is to commit suicide. These parents are backing the schools and losing their children in the process.


I had no trouble with tests either - always scored 99th pecentile. So what? People are all different, and good education does not teach just to the top 1%. I have had courses through the graduate level in math, psychology, and education. I have examined some of the Common Core math, and the complaints of this article are correct. I have read that the educational goals were developed from an expected college level down, without consulting child educators or psychologists. Should we separate kids into fast, regular and slow classes? Can computers teach each child at his/her own rate? I don’t know. But the Common Core s not the answer for good education.


I never said I always did well on tests. I didn’t. But I did not suffer anxiety over it.

I fully agree with your assessment of US schools (although it certainly was not true in my school years) and you are basically agreeing with my critique. Mr Singer that wrote kids brains only develop so fast (not true after the age of 12 or so) and so should not be challenged. Challenge is not the problem, they need more challenge! As you mentioned, maths in Europe focuses on solving challenging proofs - not boring rote rearranging of equations. The stultifying nature of the education process in US public (including charter) education is the problem.

And, of course, not everyone has the skills for advanced academic pursuits. Their talents lie elsewhere. For them, there need to be strong free vocational-technical education and equally strong unions so they can earn a living wage in a trade.

And the comparisons to Asia were simply wrong.

Very interesting. I would not be surprised if there is a correlation. The pressure on the kids is unbelievable. What is worse is the tests themselves. I have tutored kids during test prep and the test are ridiculous. Questions are asked that I cannot fathom and I have a masters degree. Teachers shrug their shoulders. So, kids are pressured to perform well on tests that often set kids up to fail. It’s not education.


Its very important that all developing young people get tested for the skills they need to survive in our industrial work world and plug right into the capitalist system we all live under:

And if this causes some young people to commit suicide, well that’s just the price we have to pay for our continuing progress!!


hope everyone realizes I am being totally facetious :smirk:

This is a very sad story. My kids are both grown, so it’s no longer an issue for me and them, but this is a sad situation.

Between the widespread use of drugs on these kids for which the drugs are not technically approved, and this pressure cooker atmosphere for testing, it’s no wonder at all that the suicide rates are what they are.


I grew up in either the same generation or the generation prior to you and Leftist. Yes, there were standardized tests back then. However, nowhere near the frequency and intensity of the current standardized test regime in the USA. I can remember a standardized test at the end of elementary school, end of middle (junior high) school, and another couple during high school, plus the PSAT and SAT or ACT, but we took those last ones only if we planned to attend university. They were not mandatory tests for all students. Even in the 1980s and 1990s when my children were in school, there were no more tests than when I was a child.

Currently, children in the USA have to take standardized tests mandated initially under Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and replaced by Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act. Even though these tests are officially administered only in a few years during a student’s time in school, the tests have been used so strongly by politicians as a funding sword over the head of school administrators that the schools frequently have multiple “practice exams” for the students with those practice exams carrying just as much pressure as the official exam. In addition, many states have their own separate educational progress measurement tests that are used as the basis for allocating state funding to schools. Some states have multiple exams. Some states give the exams almost every year. Thanks to pressure from corporate interests and parents, politicians have become addicted to the idea that testing for educational achievement is an effective substitute for actual teaching and learning in order for the kids to develop educational achievement themselves. Beating students and school administrators over the heads with more tests is being done instead of actually developing methods that encourage learning.

So, please, spare me the comparison of your sense of testing pressure to what children are facing now. You don’t have a clue what testing pressure is like in schools currently unless you are a teacher in one of the schools or school districts that has substituted testing for teaching, or are the parent of a student experiencing the pressure, or are a student facing the pressure. From my observations, the article is correct that standardized testing is an issue. However, it is wrong to place the blame on common core. The reality is that the standardized testing pressure would be increasing even if common core had never been developed. The reason is that the corporate special interests and politicians have no creativity or imagination in when it comes to learning methods because all they know is testing to rote memorization of facts. Each time the discussion turns to US students underperforming compared to the students in other countries, instead of stepping back to look at why standardized testing and teaching to the test has failed, the politicians and corporate interests just double down on more testing.

Maybe its is time for US politicians to adopt the Finland model, where educational performance is higher than in the USA, but the emphasis on kids being kids and learning by doing and playing and reading replaces teaching to tests. According to a French Youth Ministry study in 2011, after Finland made the changes in their approach to educating children, suicide rates among Finnish children dropped 40% in the decade prior to the study. Meanwhile, child suicide rates in Asia and the USA were increasing during the same period and that was before common core was implemented.


Well said. Psychometric testing implemented under NCLB has become a huge industry, and with the advent of Common Core, a feeding frenzy has been initiated among corporations making a living designing these tests. Politicians are in most cases either business people or lawyers, and the concepst of quantifying education and somehow operationalizing information so that comprehension can be measured is vastly appealing to these groups. In addition, the capitalist obsession with attaching monetary value to everything infects their thinking–witness DeVos trying to compare shopping for education with shopping for a car. it’s beyond idiotic.


This is so frightening. I now have to worry about my great-grandkids, one already in grammar school, the others soon to start school. Why can’t they just let kids be kids!