Why Standardized Tests are Ruining Public Education

Proponents of standardized testing argue that they ensure that every child has the same education; they may even promote it as a kind of insurance of equality.  In fact, though, standardized testing favors students who excel at memorization over students who excel at analysis, and it rewards those who can (and are willing to) adapt to what such tests measure while punishing those who think creatively.  Standardized tests are the box outside of which everyone keeps telling us to think, and their job is to squeeze us all in.

Consider this:  one and one is two anywhere you go (unless you happen to be a computer running on a binary system, but let’s assume our children are not computers) but the English language is flexible, and a good deal of its flexibility is regional.  Yes, there is value in every American’s being able to understand, and communicate in, “television” English, but does this invalidate the richness of the language as it flourishes and evolves?  If it seems instead to be devolving, one can blame the internet, but what is it that gives the internet such control over how children learn to use language?  Could it possibly be their disconnection from what they’re taught in school?  Perhaps if they were taught to strive for achievement in the art of communication, rather than in test-passing, they would be engaged and not have to look elsewhere.  Reading is an important way to encourage a love and understanding of language.  Reading is a drag when its only purpose is to learn just enough to pass a standardized test.

It isn’t only language and communication that are suffering.  Standardized history is at best irrelevant to those whose history it doesn’t happen to be, and at worst offensive.  The “fact” that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America is a good case in point.  Columbus went slave-hunting in a land he incorrectly identified; he didn’t discover it, as it was already occupied; it wasn’t in or especially near “America,” by which we commonly mean the United States, nor was it even in North America.  Which error are we celebrating when we honor him:  the slave-hunting, his being lost or our own misapprehension about where he was?  Yet this is still being taught, and tested!  It’s misleading enough to be feeding this to European-descended kids; its message to Native American students is “You don’t count; the New World was undiscovered until civilized people got here; enslaving and killing your ancestors was not only okay but praiseworthy.”

Such egregious errors aside, standardized testing’s aforementioned bias against original, creative thinking is already proving disastrous; are we NOT interested in future generations of inventors, philosophers, discoverers (real ones), people who not only know how things are supposed to work and not only know how they do work but also can imagine how they could work BETTER, and who have the wherewithal to MAKE them work better?  Do we eschew the cultivation of visionaries in favor of the grooming of a nation of worker bees, under the assumption that most children are only going to grow up to be drones anyway?  Whose assumption is that?  The terrible conclusion we almost dare not draw from this is that the “equal” education provided by standardized tests is really part of a deliberate plan to keep the supposedly nonexistent class system firmly in place in the (also supposedly) land of the free.  Only those who can afford private education can escape.  The testing system that promises equality promotes elitism (ironically a word much used by its supporters to refer to people who have, or want, a REAL education).

Unless we want standardized people, standardized testing needs to be recognized for what it is:  at best, a bust.