Standardized Tests Have Gone Too Far

Much has changed in the our education system since I attended high school in the mid 80’s and one of the biggest is the number of standardized tests students are required to take.

From NPR:

“High school students in the U.S. take lots of standardized tests. There are state tests, new Common Core-aligned field tests, and an alphabet soup of others like the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) exams, the SAT, ACT, AP and IB.”

Before I get to my point of this post, don’t misunderstand me. Our educators need to be held accountable and we need to improve how we educate our children (parents are included in this too….) and if you want to improve something then you have to have a metric that you can use to measure your success or failure.

Lord Kelvin put it best:

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”

So using standardized tests or some other method to measure how well our schools are educating our children is a good thing. But I think we’ve gone too far.

I am a parent of a 7th grader and a 3rd grader and already I’m seeing the stress and strain these batteries of standardized tests are taking on the students. The funding that schools receive is dependent in part on how well the students do on these tests so I get it that this is a stressful time for the teachers. But I can see the stress on my kids also during the week they take these tests so it’s obvious the teachers are transferring their stress to the kids. The kids are having it beat into them that they NEED to do well on these tests.

Parents share in the stress too. We receive memos the week prior to the standardized testing making sure the parents get their kids to bed early, feed them a good breakfast and other tips to ensure the kids are performing at the top of their game. Homework is reduced or suspended the weeks prior to the testing and it’s apparent that the teachers use this time ‘coaching’ the kids so they perform well on the tests.

The stress that high school kids feel when they take the ACT, SAT and other college entrance exams is normal and we all had to go through that. I’m not really bothered by that but in my high school days I didn’t have other standardized tests throughout the year to make the college entrance exams even more stressful.

I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing something here.

Back in the 1940’s we had a generation of American high school kids who were educated without having to take a series of state and federal standardized tests but yet those kids grew up and did something pretty amazing in the 1960’s.

090715-moon-flag-02

These kids managed to put men on the moon and the computing power they had at their disposal was less than what we have on our smart phones and the calculations they were performing were done using a slide rule.

But you might say – Come on Cosmoscon, the world has changed in the past 70 years and it is more technologically advanced so we require a more robust education system now. The technological challenges our kids face today are orders of magnitude greater than what the kids faced when they graduated from high school in the 1940’s. The task of educating our kids is harder today than it was in the past and we need these standardized tests to measure our performance.

Nonsense!

The laws of physics are not tougher now than they were in the 1960’s. Gravity still works the same way. Escape velocity equations are still the same. The distance from the Earth to the Moon is basically the same. Orbital mechanics still work the same today as they did back then. Calculus hasn’t changed in the last 70 years. Maxwell’s equations are as valid today as they were in the 1960’s.

All the sophisticated tools that modern society has provided us with should have made the task of educating our kids easier. Kids of the 1940’s didn’t have the internet and they couldn’t use Google to do their research. There were things called a “card catalog” and “Dewey Decimal System” at the public library that took forever to find what you were looking for. Classrooms didn’t have fancy Promethean boards that could broadcast fancy PowerPoint presentations. Remember the messy chalk boards?

How was it that a generation of adults received such a stellar childhood education without taking state standardized tests?

Why were we able to educate our children 70 years ago without having standardized tests but today we can’t?

I don’t know the answer but I think it’s a question worth exploring.

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10 Responses to Standardized Tests Have Gone Too Far

  1. Agreed, partner.
    All of which is the part of the reason why we’re homeschooling our 6th and 8th grade sons, Cosmo.

    Instead of just being taught to a particular test, they are learning HOW and WHY the answers are the answers. Even analyzing how to break down the workings of the Rubik’s Cube (and figuring out why a series of moves gives the result it does) is teaching them analytical skills they’ll be able to use later in life. It’s fun, and they actually remember the lessons later on.

    Many things need be memorized, but not everything. Learning the questions to ask in order to discover the answers, or even re-discover them later on, is a far more worthwhile skill, and one that is totally lacking in Public Education today.

    • livinrightinpgh says:

      JTR (A.K.A. my evil twin), NAILS my intended comment. Teaching TO the test does nothing but promote short term rote memory. CRITICAL thinking skills (you know…where CREATIVITY, INNOVATION, and GENIUS are born) are sadly missing from modern education.

      I see it every day with individuals who come to me for employment opportunities (Personally, after high school, my college work was Theological Studies, yet my parents and teachers were adept at teaching critical thinking skills.) Now, these MBA’s come into my office and during a routine interview, don’t have the critical thinking skills to work through a very simple workplace challenge that’s been presented to them to resolve.

  2. cosmoscon says:

    More and more people are moving that route JTR and I have a neighbor who has been home schooling their kids for about 4 years.

    I’m sure you follow Matt Walsh’s blog but in case you don’t, you’ll like this post about home schooling myths.

    http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/04/25/behold-the-two-absolutely-worst-arguments-against-homeschooling/

  3. Reblogged this on Two Heads are Better Than One and commented:
    Some valid points and concerns about our troubled Public Education system (**courtesy of our buddy, Cosmo). — My wife and I currently homeschool our two sons, and posts like this make us grateful that we do.

  4. Pingback: Standardized Tests Have Gone Too Far | Two Heads are Better Than One

  5. thatmrgguy says:

    I believe the problem is we don’t give our kids a classical education anymore. Starting in Kindergarten, our kids are now taught more about multiculturalism and diversity than they are about the three R’s.

    • I’d largely agree, MrG. I’ve said it before: we were taught HOW to think, not WHAT to think.
      Early on, that centered on rote memorization. But it quickly became more about how to approach a problem or issue. By the time we were in high school, we were capable of analyzing complex problems to identify what we knew and didn’t know, what information was important, and how we should approach the solution(s).
      Basically, we learned the process of thinking.

      Now? It’s all about the test, PLUS a bunch of other stuff (diversity/multiculturalism/etc) that should be handled at home, church, social settings… but not school.

      • cosmoscon says:

        Yes MrG and JTR, that was the point of this blog post. A whole generation of kids were taught how to think and they used that education to figure out how to put men on the moon. Their education wasn’t wasted by studying to pass standardized tests and they weren’t forced to a least common denominator so some underachieving kids didn’t feel bad about their failing grades.

        And now these kids are growing up to become the low info voters that elect people that promise to give them freebies!

        • Exactly, Cosmo.
          It’s why I wanted to reblog it: this is such a crucial issue, and it doesn’t get nearly the attention that it requires or deserves.

          Kids are capable of much more than our world seems comfortable asking of them.

  6. sally1137 says:

    I grew up in Iowa, wher we took Iowa Basic Skills tests every year until about fifth grade, and then Iowa Tests of Educactional Development in 9th and 11th grade ( i think that’s what years they were–it’s been a while.)

    We took the tests for what they were, though, a measure of the student’s skills. No coaching. No teaching to the test.

    It was assumed that the teachers were competent and the onus was on the student.

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