The Italian View

Exchange students are surprised by America’s reliance on standardized testing

By Auburn Larson, Current Staff

Lisa Bertani is used to being cross-examined by teachers at school, but she’s finding this semester much easier. Bertani, you see, is a foreign exchange student from Carpi, Italy.

Right now Bertani attends West Bend East High School, and while in Wisconsin she met Elettra Fiandri, another Italian exchange student who resides in Modena, Italy but currently attends Slinger High School.

Both Bertani and Fiandri have been struck by the drastic differences between American schools and their schools back home, especially when it comes to assessments.

Right from the start, school in the U.S. was a totally new experience for Bertani and Fiandri because the structure was so complex compared to Italy.

“In Italy you choose the type of high school you will attend instead of classes,” Bertani said. “There are high schools for various interests and subjects including math, science and language plus art schools that specialize in graphic design and sculpting. This way you are better prepared for a career in your field.”

For most American students, standardized tests are frequent and numerous. But these Italian students had never seen a standardized test until arriving in the American school system.

“All of our assessments in Italy are open answer oral tests, which is a huge difference from our tests now,” Bertani said.

Fiandri and Bertani both agreed that the Italian way of testing has major disadvantages but also some positive qualities. As stressful as school here may be, they described Italy as being much more rigorous, difficult and stressful.

“Oral tests feel like an interrogation,” Fiandri said. “That’s actually what we refer to them as. They ask you five or six questions and grade you on a scale 1-10 to determine your grade. The worst part of all is you often don’t know when this interrogation will happen so you must always be prepared.”

“I had never seen a standardized test.”
– Lisa Bertani, exchange student

Despite the stress of surprise interrogations, Bertani admitted that there was also some helpfulness within them.

“I think that when you have open questions you have to study more, but saying it out loud and explaining it in your own words always helps you remember the information better,” Bertani said. “Here I often feel like I learn information for a test but once I’ve taken the test I forget most of it.”

Bertani and Fiandri also feel that another aspect of U.S. schools that many American students take for granted is the relationship that they have with their teachers.

“In Italy we have a very specific way that we must address our teachers,” Fiandri said. “It’s like an extremely formal way of speaking, and if you don’t speak to them in this way you don’t know what could happen.”

“Teachers here are so nice and care about you so much,” Bertani said. “We have very few teachers like that in Italy. They are there to teach and make a living not to be friendly.”

They also mentioned how study halls and extra help are not naturally provided in Italy like they are in the U.S.

“If we want extra help we must schedule a private lesson with our teacher which usually costs about $20 an hour,” Fiandri said. “This makes it especially hard for students who don’t have much money to receive extra help.”

Foreign languages are also emphasized in Italy much more than they are in the U.S. There is more work put in which in turn creates better results.

“We have more tests during the week and more pages to read and study,” Bertani said. “I think that’s why I learned English so quickly.”


Lisa Bertani and Elettra Fiandri visit an Italian bakery in downtown Milwaukee with friends. Photograph courtesy of Auburn Larson.

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