The myths of standards and standardized testing

by Steve Wyckoff on January 3, 2011

The federal government, through No Child Left Behind, has set the direction for school change in America. The NCLB act appears to be focused on two issues; develop a set of national standards that are adhered to by all schools, and raise standardized test scores. There is a fair amount of rhetoric around innovation and creativity but very little action.

Recently however, I listened to a very interesting podcast by Neil McCluskey of the Cato Institute. The first thing that I found interesting was that Dr. McCluskey pointed out that since data has been kept in the 1950s, the United States has never led the world in standardized test scores.

Where we have always led the world is in creativity and innovation. And yet, creativity and innovation are exactly the areas we are reducing in order to increase standardization of processes and content. Other countries, such as China, are making a conscious effort to make their students more innovative and creative. No such movement exists in America, in spite of the urging by many researchers and experts. Politicians are hell-bent on raising test scores. At any cost.

The second push by the federal government is to move us to national standards. It’s always pointed out to us that the top 10 or 12 countries on standardized tests (again, who cares) all have national standards. What Dr. McCluskey points out is that the bottom 12 countries all have national standards. There is simply no evidence that national standards lead to higher test scores, even assuming you want higher test scores.

In a time were school change should be all about customization and individualization for every child, our federal government is forcing us in exactly the opposite direction. I hope, but seriously doubt, that there are enough rebels out there telling the federal government to stick it, and doing what’s best for our kids in spite of the consequences, to overcome this disastrous direction. – Steve Wyckoff

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Hagerman January 3, 2011 at 9:03 am

I agree with your criticism of “standardization” and the fact that we should in fact be going away from standardization and toward individualization and customization.

But I think the reason we may not have led the world at any time in test scores but have in creativity and innovation is because in this country we have allowed, emphasized, and stood for freedom. We are free to think, say, and act in ways that are contrary to conventional wisdom (within the legal boundaries). And those “rebels” are not silenced. They may not get their way, but at the end of they day those who have different ideas are mostly respected and allowed to be different. That, in my opinion, is why our country is and will continue to lead the world even if it isn’t in standardized test scores.

admin January 3, 2011 at 10:59 am

AMEN Bill, I couldn’t agree more! In fact I would go a step farther, I think that what we really need to be doing in our schools is unleashing thousands of educational entrepreneurs. Our parents are smart enough to figure out what’s best for their kids and giving them many choices would allow us to figure out all the best ways to educate kids. Furthermore, I don’t believe there is one best school for all kids. We need many different kinds of schools for many different kinds of kids. And our definition of what a school is needs to change. A group of 15 to 20 kids with one teacher can legitimately be a school.

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