Cult of Standardized Testing

No Child Will Be Left Behind



I read an article in the newspaper recently concerning the school report cards that were established as part of the "no child left behind" act. This sounds like a great idea. The act tries to eliminate disparities between schools from Maine to Hawaii and provides the ability to compare one school to another though certification requirements and standardized testing.

As I read, I can across a statement from a teacher who seemed excited to get back in the classroom. I have to paraphrase, but it went like this: "we will be working hard to get ready for the standardized test. . .". This statement made shivers run down my spine. The impression I got from this statement, and the article as a whole, made it sound like the most important thing in public education today is a successful test.

This blows me away. Granted, testing can be a valuable tool for ascertaining retention levels and proficiency, but testing is only a tool. You cannot use a single test to determine the course of education and under no condition should A test dictate curriculum.

To be honest, I did a little research on the subject; but like most propaganda, always consider the source. If you look at the NCLB website, it portrays the act as an improvement strategy for American education. At first glance, the act looks like the magic bullet that will reverse decades of inequalities in education. Of course, being that America is a huge and mind-bendingly complicated bureaucracy, the chances of it working as designed on a national scale is unlikely. If you think that this is different, consider the tax code, war on drugs, immigration, or any other law or program implemented nation-wide.

The NCLB act is a good idea in principle. In my opinion, the failure comes when you actually try to make it happen. It’s only natural that if standardized testing is the benchmark by which you will be judged, you will use your resources to get the highest score possible. If the test is comprehensive and it drives schools to reinforce critical thinking and problem solving over rote memorization then it could mean that the overall cognitive abilities of American students will rise as a result. The alternative is a system that teaches our children to be expert test-takers and memorization master. Keep in mind that "standardized" doesn’t mean better.

As a kid, I never thought much about the purpose of school, other than to keep me occupied for nine months of the year. As an adult, I must consider the purpose for classroom education as I routinely perform ‘teaching’ duties. The old axim, "you can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day: Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever, comes to mind. The real world is far too complicated to fit into neat little multiple choice answers and too demanding to lack even basic critical thinking abilities. In my opinion, teaching to the standardized test is like giving away fish.

You’ve probably already walked into a restaraunt or coffee shop and asked for a slight variation on a menu item only to have that young doe-eyed helper look at you like you just asked them to solve Fermat’s last theorem. Imagine if your new doctor’s greatest academic challenge was to keep the pencil marks inside the circle.

P.S. The test for this year have probably been printed. Now that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, what’ll happen if the test asks how many planets are in the solar system?  Will 9 still be the right answer?

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