The myths of standards and standardized testing

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

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