Proponents of standardized testing often set up the straw-man argument that we need assessment and that those against their favored tests, therefore, must be against testing completely. This is nonsense, of course.
And soon it will be moot.
We are beginning to see the consequences of our testing mania. And they are not good.
In the Jan/Feb issue of Academe, Ken Bernstein, warns us college professors, telling us what to expect in the aftermath of the foolish national policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. This week, in The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s blog “The Conversation,” law professor Michele Goodwin goes a step further, telling us the consequences are already with us. She writes:
As teachers and their schools are evaluated and even ranked in magazines on how well students perform on tests, the emphasis at the ground level has shifted from teaching higher-level thinking to preparing students for standardized tests of all sorts. And the stakes are high; schools have suffered losses in funds, teachers, and enrollment because of students’ underperformance on tests. Indeed, in extreme cases, schools have been shut down because of poor test results.
Policy makers thought test taking would serve as an effective accountability measure and would make the United States more internationally competitive. However, policies intended to create incentives for better teaching and hard work have hurt students the most.
All the over-emphasis on standardized testing has done is create a generation of Americans less able to improvise, to strike out in new (and untestable) directions than ever before.
In the long run, things will change. As Goodwin concludes:
In time, this bubble will burst. No Child Left Behind has left behind so many who are ill-prepared for jobs requiring nuanced thinking. What goes around in K through 12 comes around in postsecondary courses, and eventually in society at large.
In the meantime, we who are involved in higher education have to start finding ways of countering the pernicious influence that an over-emphasis on standardized testing has had on our students, emphasizing in new and creative ways the skills of critical thinking and exploration. Unfortunately, we are having to do this in an environment still reflecting belief in testing. In fact, the adherents of standardized testing are ever expanding their brief: now, they are looking to impose the same intellectually deadening regime on our colleges that has already caused such damage on our K-12 schools.