The federal government is discussing how many standardized tests they will require of school districts, and how they will use tests to judge teachers and students.
This issue now has more impact on U.S. children than anything else that happens in schools.
- The first standardized test was created by a racist professor named Lewis Terman. He convinced school districts to use the tests to track students. And he started in Oakland, because it was close to Stanford, where he was a professor. He was part of the Eugenics movement and believed that Northern European whites were smarter than everyone else. (Check out Lewis Terman’s book, Measurement of Intelligence (1916) or my book for more details).
- In many ways the current tests are very similar to Terman’s I.Q. test. All the standardized tests in the U.S. assume that everything important can be measured a) in English; b) in writing; and c) in short answers to questions that are often obscure because they are designed to differentiate, separating students and schools into categories – “below proficient,” “IQ-98,” and “School X – failing.”
- The best predictor of student test scores is student family wealth. The country is spending 1.7 billion to find out something I could tell you for a nickel – the wealth gap is getting larger and therefore the erroneously titled “achievement gap” is not decreasing! In fact, it was decreasing more before No Child Left Behind, because the wealth gap was not as large.
- Standardized tests are created by profit-making companies, which means that the companies have an incentive to lobby for a) more and more tests and b) changing the standards, so that the tests will also have to be changed. Pearson, for example, is one of the biggest test makers and the company played a major role in creating the Common Core Standards.
- Human knowledge is growing exponentially every day. No test could possibly capture any small portion of what is worth knowing.
- Tests are polluting every educational endeavor now. They are used to close schools. They are used to retain kindergartners in the same grade or to find out if four-year-olds are “ready to learn,” a truly absurd concept, since humans start learning before they are born!
- The very worst thing about standardized tests may be the fact that they are depriving us of a diverse teaching force. Prospective teachers have to take so many costly irrelevant standardized exams that California now has 60 percent Latino, Asian, indigenous, and African-American students and 20 percent teachers from these groups.
What could be done instead? I do not support any standardized testing, as it is now used in the U.S. I give tests that I create; most educators do.
But my tests are designed to help and validate – not to separate and punish.
The National Education Association has called for “grade-span testing.” That means that students would have standardized tests three times – elementary, middle and high school – instead of every year.
If you want to encourage less testing, email [email protected] by Feb. 1. Your email might say something like, “Too much testing is hurting U.S. education.”
Check out the EducationTodayKPFA Facebook page for more ideas about what to do.
Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD, is the author of “Organizing to Change a City” (2012) and “A Different View of Urban Schools: Civil Rights, Critical Race Theory and Unexplored Realities” (2012) Peter Lang. She also hosts a radio show called Education Today on KPFA radio 94.1 FM.