Monday, December 05, 2011

Let's Put It to the Test

For years in various forums (blog posts such as this one, professional development sessions, speaking engagements) I've been saying that state and federal legislators should be required to take the standardized tests that they make our students take. They should take them under the same conditions that our students take them and then publicly report their results - and their thoughts after taking the tests and seeing the results. (I've also suggested that high school educators be required to take each others' final exams, but that's another blog post.)

As successful adults and leaders in our society, surely they would be up to the challenge, right? And surely the results would prove their hypothesis, that the skills measured by these tests are both necessary and sufficient to be a successful adult and contributor to society, right?

Well, it looks like one school board member at least had the same idea. This article in the Washington Post is trending in my Twitter stream today:
“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.
Yep. He goes on to say,
“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

. . . "I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.” 
So, again, I renew my call that all state and federal legislators, as well as all education reformers that use standardized tests as the primary measurement of how successful schools are, to take the mandated state tests in your area and then publish the results. (As a bonus, I think all education reformers should be required to send their children to the same types of schools they are designing for other people's children, but that's also another blog post.)

There's a difference between standardization and high standards; between recall and application; between testing and accountability; between schooling and learning. I fear that many of our so-called leaders have forgotten this. Perhaps it's time for them to walk-the-walk and be held accountable on the same tests they are requiring of our students.

Update: The hashtag for this is #takethetest


  1. I find it amazing that such a successful individual would do so poorly on such a test. It goes to show what kind of world we are preparing students for. I don't think that it's just the difference of intelligence either. The fact of the matter is that twenty years ago, students were learning at a different pace, in different subjects in order to prepare them for different jobs. Right now, students are more likely to work in a field that didn't exist twenty years than they are to be enrolled in a more conventional job. Our society has become more design based and it has begun to value design as much as it values functionality. An instance of this is the expansion of Apple products. In functionality Apple can be beat by a lot of its competitors, but in design it takes the crown. Apple computers are more user-friendly, more appearance based and generally more pleasing to the customer. This is why Apple is growing and succeeding. With all these jobs opening up in the creative sector, automated manufacturing and overseas labor are replacing the conventional jobs, and forcing American students to adapt. As a student I will be prepared for a much more design based future.

  2. Some universities have begun phasing out the SAT and similar tests, and graduate programs in certain disciplines are doing away with GRE requirements. Do you think this trend will continue?

  3. This is one of those posts that has had me thinking this week. So much so that I linked to it here...

  4. I agree 100% that legislators should take the standardized tests they require students to take. I doubt any of them have ever experienced how it is to work in a school and deal with the pressures a teacher must face to prepare their students for such tests. In addition, it would give them a realistic taste of what these tests are like. Requiring an adult to sit for hours to take a test is a challenge. Sit a fourth grader down and require them to take a test, even more of a challenge. I also agree that teachers should take one another’s final exams. I bet teachers would find the exams to be just as difficult, if not more difficult as the students find them to be. Maybe if legislators and educators start having a taste of their own medicine they’d start giving more realistic tests that measure what students learn and can learn. Telling someone to do something and actually doing it yourself are two different things, as the saying goes ‘easier said than done.’

  5. "There's a difference between standardization and high standards; between recall and application; between testing and accountability; between schooling and learning."

    It's amazingly sad how skewed the focus of education can get. Ironically those that have pushed for and implemented these standardized tests have high levels of education themselves! Just goes to show that you don't really know about something until you have actually EXPERIENCED it. Don't just talk....DO!

  6. I appreciate the honesty of the board member.

  7. Why don't we just start using standardized tests for everyone. Passing the test allows you to continue doing what it is you are qualified to do. Our legislators need no certification or license to do what they do. There doesn't seem to be any required training for that profession. In fairness, some do pass law school and learn something about law. How about before you are allowed to run for office or re-election, you have to pass the legislator aptitude standardized test (LAST).