Graduating from Standardized Tests

| 12/20/2011 4:35:56 PM


Standardized tests are an oft-vilified, cancerous outgrowth on the sickly flesh of 2001’s No Child Left Behind education reform legislation. By shifting the focus of secondary education to preparing students for high-stakes exams, students are incentivized to memorize factoids, formulae, and figures, rather than how to think creatively, form a rational opinion (or sentence), or continue learning outside of a school environment. It as if the Department of Education took on the pedagogic philosophy of Mr. Gradgrind—a boarding school teacher in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times—who is an unwavering advocate of “truth” and empiricism. “Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts,” Gradgrind pontificates in Hard Times’ opening chapter, “Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

Don’t get me wrong, getting the facts right is important . . . and you’d better hope your teachers sow the Facts in our current system, or you won’t place very well or SAT or ACT exam. Good luck getting into college without a passing score.

And, for that matter, good luck taking a standardized exam that isn’t bankrolled, lobbied-for, manufactured, delivered, and scored by Pearson Education, an international textbook manufacturer with chokehold on American public schools. “To capitalize on this new world order,” we reported in our Jan-Feb 2012 issue, “testing companies are hiring high-powered lobbyists to influence the government’s educational agenda.” Let me spell this out very clearly: The privatization that these lobbyists are pushing changes the institutional goal of public education from knowledge, equality, or progress to money.

Also, had you heard that standardized tests don’t work very well in the first place?

Even if the interests of standardized testing are entrenched, a few good ideas might help chip away at their rote, zombifying intellectual oppression. For the sake of black humor, here are a few of those ideas bouncing around—presented in the form of a multiple-choice question:

Tim Malone
1/14/2012 3:19:42 PM

While I agree with what this article is saying, I think it misses the point of standardized tests. This article assumes that test are there to assess students; on the surface this may be true, but I think the true purpose of these tests is to assess the teachers. None of the prescriptions offered address this issue and are thus doomed to fail. Student portfolios would be great, but they offer no method of assessing the performance of teachers. A portfolio offers a great way to assess the student's work, but it assumes the teacher is competent, which is not an assumption that is made by our society. Americans have a strong desire to quantitatively assess the effectiveness of workers (How many units of education did this teacher provide? How many student units did they process this year?). Unfortunately, school funding, teacher assessment, anti-union sentiment, and property tax rates are all intertwined with, and choking, pedagogy.

Stephanie Bustamante
12/28/2011 6:38:02 PM

F. In place of grades, allow the Teacher the time and opportunity to articulate each child's growth through the school year, circumstances where one excelled, felt defeated, shined, helped others. To share specific experiences and perhaps to share what the Teacher has learned from the Student. In short, allow the individuality of each person be the focus rather than a highly suspect form of testing which turns people into products in need of quality assurance testing. Of course, a Teacher would need to be insightful, objective and most importantly interested in each student to some degree. Class size would effect this, as would the reality that most teachers are born out of a public school assembly line and so might need extra training in order to break away from the 'rote' memorization and lack of imagination- which is an obstacle that can be overcome with honest reflection, an open mind and practice.

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