Testing: The Lay of the Land
Q. Why are the tests today called
"assessments"? Why are the things they're learning in school renamed
"standards"? Why are there so many words from manufacturing, such as
"proficiency" and "benchmark," associated with measuring student achievement
that's what the government is doing with these tests: "assessing" each
student's academic progress as well as attitudes and beliefs on a wide range of
sociocultural issues. The point is to keep measuring each student's potential
employability as schooling continues. It's almost as if the student is a
"widget" on the public school's "assembly-line" who needs occasional "tinkering"
(remediation) and reassessment for quality-control purposes.
If we were
still just delivering academic content and testing students' mastery of it, it
would be a cheap and easy process. The very fact that there is all this hubbub
and enormous expense over assessments - billions of extra dollars, untold
additional school and regulatory agency staff - tells you that there is more to
it than that.
to ponder: (1) parents and the public are not allowed to see the questions on
these assessments, ostensibly so that we don't "sell" them to others, which is
ridiculous, but in practice, placing a disconcerting and suspicious veil around
the assessments which suggests they may be more about Political Correctness
than academics, and (2) the history of the mass assessment of schoolchildren
came out of eugenics and a movement to
sterilize less intelligent people - sparked by the fear of inherited
intellectual inadequacy among the poorer classes. It is chilling to note that
the apparent "benchmarking" of the assessments is toward suitability for
entry-level employment in blue-collar type work environments.
Coupling that with the apparent "dumbing down" of state learning standards, it
suggests that the government's curriculum and assessment systems are designed
for the non-college bound student but treating all students as if they had
those same low-level prospects out of fear of offending low-income and minority
parents and publics.
rate, it's all about obtaining and using data. The government is building a
database on each student with data on various measurements in far more detail
than the old GPA and SAT/ACT scores. The idea is for the government to be
accountable to parents and employers that students in general, and each
individual student in particular, has mastered the "benchmarks" of a standard
education and is "up to specs" for a college education or a good job after high
school. Students are considered "human capital" that the government is
investing in for a good return on down the road, when the students become
productive, tax-paying citizens.
all bad. One of the main purposes of schooling is, after all, to help you
become self-sufficient and make a living. It gets scary, though, when you
factor in all the nonacademic data that is being collected, and the
increasingly nonacademic nature of the questions on the government assessments.
example, on a statewide assessment in Pennsylvania, called the "EQA"
(Educational Quality Assessment), students were asked, and scored upon,
questions such as these:
I don't receive much attention at home.
The prospect of working most of my adult life
A person in a crowd is standing on a street corner.
They are protesting about something. Some people pick up rocks and start
throwing them at windows. I would ALSO THROW ROCKS when I knew: (a) There was
no chance of getting caught, (b) I agreed with what they were protesting about,
(c) My closest friend decided to throw rocks.
-- Book, Outcome-Based Education:
The State's Assault on Our Children's Values,
and Pamela Hobbs Hoffecker, 1995
little these have to do with academics? See how they zero in on attitudes, and
each student's feelings and "locus of control," or what makes him or her
teach, and apparently, these assessments are teaching educators that they SHOULD
be delving into emotions and attitudes and doing amateur psychological
profiling in order to help their students score well on these assessments.
Why is all
of this going on?
"assess" is to appraise or estimate the value of something, or in this case,
someone. Like it or not, the government is gradually changing the point of
schooling away from developing a knowledgeable citizen to one who meets the
state's standards on a wide variety of measurements, not all of them academic.
Opinions, attitudes, values and beliefs are being assessed, measured and
recorded for use in shaping new curriculum and assessment questions for the
everything in education is supposed to be "data-driven," there are electronic
portfolios being built on every student that include all kinds of information
to help teachers and, later on, college admissions officers and employers
"assess" the student for not just reading comprehension and math computation,
but also "affective" categories such as honesty, tolerance, whether you resist
or succumb to peer pressure, and how well you work in a group.
some pieces of the assessment puzzle that may affect students today:
Annual "accountability' testing under No Child Left
NAEP - the National Assessment of Educational
Progress, currently given on a spot-check basis but, many people feel, destined
to become the one and only nationally standardized test someday
Career planning assessments such as the PLAN
SCANS - Secretary's Commission for Achieving National
Skills -- work skills assessments through the U. S. Department of Labor
PSAT, SAT, and ACT -- although college admissions
tests are voluntary most everywhere, the State of Colorado requires all
students to take the ACT
Graduation exit exams
Homework: Here is a primer on No Child Left
Behind's assessment requirements from the national group of state-level
education officials, the Council of Chief State School Officers: