Test is Not the Answer
July 16, 2001
The craze for national testing is like the craving for sugar
to cure an appetite: it may feel good, but it doesn't address
the problem. I am not against tests. I am against false measurements.
Picking the case for national testing apart, based on information
from the Washington Post for a story that ran July 8, 2001:
Polls show that at least 3 of 4 Americans endorse
using standardized testing to reward or punish students and
educators. Therefore, at least 3 of 4 Americans therefore
consider testing to be a disciplinary function, a finite end
to the infinite quality of lifelong learning. You can't learn
from a test; you can only be measured by it, and graded (or
In California, raises and bonuses for teachers and
principals are determined in large measure by test results.
Therefore, teachers and principals are being paid for the
performance of other people: just like managers. School
In Alabama, school budgets can be enhanced based
on test results; educator's careers can rise and fall with
them. Therefore, money follows test scores, independent
of any other factors that may influence some schools rather
than others. Consequently educators (administrators) may
either collect credit for something they had no direct correlation
with, or be punished for an outcome that resulted from a
systemic problem rather than the personal failure of a teacher.
"Tests provide irrefutable data about which kids
are learning what, and in which classrooms." - Ron Paige,
Education Secretary. Tests provide irrefutable data about
what the tester valued and how much each classroom deviated
from the test-writer's values. The Rand Corporation found
that "50 percent to 80 percent of the improvement in a school's
average scores from year to year is related to random factors
rather than real gains."
Standardized tests "give you information about
the child," said Jeffrey Taylor, a senior vice-president…
at the nation's largest test-scoring company. Standardized
tests give you information about the child's attention,
comprehension, and care that day, while providing a revenue
stream to testing companies independent of the effectiveness
of the test - which cannot be questioned by the people being
"…the emphasis on testing is leading teachers to
steal time from the curriculum to prepare their students
for the test." Why isn't it obvious that the test purports
to measure a single variable when in fact it measures many
variables, including how the child slept the night before
or ate the morning of the test?
There is one reason to favor individual tests created at
the classroom level: they expose the students who coast
on their 'group process' and 'communication' skills at the
expense of substantive acquisition of knowledge and data-driven
reasoning. As the executive vice president of the Princeton
Review, Steve Hodas, remarked: "The tests are not used as
a snapshot; they are a goal."
My point exactly.