Ten Reasons to Dismantle Standardized Testing
In response to America’s continued lackluster performance on international standardized tests, along with stagnant growth here at home among the lower socioeconomic groups, the deep thinkers in public education press for more and more testing in our schools as a means of addressing the problem. In some ways the system can be likened to parents who just can’t accept that their kid isn’t the smartest in the class anymore. It can’t be their kid’s fault, so who is to blame? Desperate to regain their status, the education system is determined to seek out the root of the problem, and the convenient explanation is that it is the fault of the teachers and the school. In order to uncover and weed out those bad educators who are responsible for this, we must conduct testing on the students, over and over and over again.
This has been the prescription for over thirty years now, and it has failed to make progress. Perhaps we would do better if we 1) stop defining intelligence within the narrow scope of logical and linguistic abilities (the IQ model), 2) admit that intelligence is a product of both heredity and environment, and that it is cultivated in the early stages of childhood, and 3) realize that assessing the collective intelligence of a nation is not as important as seeking out and nurturing the most talented individuals. (After all, if collective intelligence is what we are really after, we should be focusing our testing on government, law, history and current issues in order to have more informed voters who would ensure more qualified political leaders. But maybe we don’t want that. . . .)
Instead, we put them through the wringer. Like those desperate parents who opt for Ritalin or some other mind-numbing drug in order to get their kid to focus on school, our system trains kids in a severely narrowed curriculum by locking them in a room for hours on end, first to practice testing, then to be tested, and tested again. Meanwhile, teachers and principals succumb to the pressure from state forces that regulate the testing.
As I write, students are clustered in computer labs all across Colorado, pieces of cardboard boxes propped between them to deter cheating, an odd paradox in this high tech, highly policed environment. In light of this image, it should be obvious that this is a flawed and futile system. We should do away with it, and here are ten common sense reasons why:
- The system assumes, without measureable proof beyond the testing results of students, that teachers and schools are the cause of the learning deficit. It ignores the common knowledge that home life is the dominant factor in character development and that learning ability is largely inherited.
- It assumes that teaching to a test and practicing testing are crucial contributors to learning, and therefore justified in taking up a vast amount of class time.
- It eats up huge sums of money that could be much better spent, for example, securing a safe learning environment in impoverished districts.
- The testing system is controlled by a cartel consisting of state and federal agencies and one for-profit company.
- That company, which supplies all the materials for tests and test preparation, reaps mighty profits.
- Hence, the testing process, which uses public funding, is not for the benefit of the public. What is even more disturbing is that one company makes all the decisions about what should (and, by default, should not) be learned.
- Little kids are being harmed much more than helped. We run them through the gamut like little soldiers, and I am reminded of the scene in Dr. Zhivago in which the White Army, after being mowed down in the field by the Red Army, are revealed as mere children dressed as soldiers as a last resort by the Tsar.
- Middle school students, entering into a biologically turbulent and naturally rebellious and self-conflicted stage of life, suffer these tests intensely. Moreover, because their performances could change drastically on any given day due to physiological or psychological funks, the tests are unreliable.
- High school students have more important tests to prepare for, such as the ACT and SAT.
- Finally, because the whole process is designed to show favorable results, the brightest students – those who may have already surpassed the content matter being tested – are put through the wringer with everyone else. This is an egregious waste of their time, and it is counterproductive. It is not the way we will foster the next American genius. Rather, it is a pretty sure way to deter any future Steven Hawkings, Carl Sagans, Tupacs, Stevie Wonders, or Steven Speilbergs.