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Rethinking Education: Part 2-Standardized testing

Standardized tests are the antithesis of great education and innovation.

I was fortunate to live in a time and place where our teachers were mostly backed by their administrators and given the creative license to teach their subjects in a way their students connected with it. I also had some teachers who lacked creativity and therefore made learning excruciating, but I suppose we all need that from time to time to really appreciate the good stuff. We had standardized tests but there weren't high stakes testing, as in, the test was for our educational insight not the basis of funding for the school.

The world started changing, and our little island of a mountain town would not hold out from the changes for long. Education policies started coming out from the White House. Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No” program was arguably the most disastrous and detrimental programs to be disseminated throughout the school auditoriums in American history, save the Red Scare perhaps. Mental health issues began to soar. War continued to rage in the Middle East. Domestic Terrorism hit the scene in a big way, although only because lots of white people were the victims. School shootings rose at an alarming pace. Suicide in children spiked. STEM was pushed at the expense of fine arts. “No Child Left Behind” was enacted, and while graduation rates rose, literacy and proficiency dropped. College and career readiness became the focus, rather than understanding and mastery over subjects, rather than engaging and empowering learners. School Choice became a buzzword, though it was just a rebranding of the ever controversial “bussing”, or segregation. Religious Conservatives used this word to defend their right to homeschool. Liberals used this word as a sign of equality, although it, too, has backfired.

With “No Child Left Behind”, standardized tests became explicitly linked to funding, which in fact widened the gap of access to education and resources, funneling more money to neighborhoods that already had access to more privileges than their poorer counterparts, and depriving poorer struggling schools from the resources they badly needed, ultimately having them shut down for poor performance, which the government caused by withholding necessary funding to improve, which in turn caused these students to disperse to the next closest school, placing the financial burden of needed resources on the next one, enacting a vicious cycle that now has our teachers under-supported, underpaid, under appreciated, and ready to quit their profession.

Aside from the insanity of withholding funds from obviously struggling schools, to really understand this, you have to understand why standardized tests are grossly insufficient in measuring a child’s aptitude and how in doing so actually has hampered their educational development and overall proficiency of knowledge. First of all, it doesn’t allow for different learning styles. In fact, less than 30% of students learn and retrieve information that way, which means the majority of students are receiving scores that do not reflect their actual knowledge or aptitude. So in order for teachers to increase these scores, they have to teach the information explicitly. The goal of education then becomes testing, not learning, leaving students educationally malnourished with a bulimic sort of education where they cram information in and puke it out on the test, retaining very little worthwhile knowledge. Instead of raising the collective knowledge and understanding, the bar for proficiency continues to be lowered to ensure “No Child [is] Left Behind”, graduating students who have lower levels of literacy and proficiency than at any other time in our history. As a result, college professors all over the country are having to “dumb down” their intro level courses to retain students, proving again that administration is placing profit over purpose. The importance placed on the standardized test has systematically dismantled any worthwhile form of education in the public school setting, leaving us with generations of less than educated citizens.

Policy does not ensure progress. People can not be made to think differently through laws or rules, we have seen this throughout human history. The only way to lasting change is through changing the heart and mind of every citizen. If only that were the focus of education, forming whole people, not products on the factory line of education.

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