Standard Deviations

First, read this article. Then let’s talk about it for a few minutes.

Let me see if I get this all into my head correctly. We are going to come up with some tests that determine how one student compares with all others in his “grade.” We will pose to the student a series of questions in a given discipline that seek to wheedle out of him his abilities in a given discipline that can be numerically compared with everyone else. We do this because we really do believe educational value can be neatly crunched by a powerful and virus free version of Microsoft Excel. To get the numbers, we have to make the tests objective. To achieve this miraculous feat we must make the possible answers limited to one of a few possible and standard responses, which we dain to call “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D.” If we feel really excited about this idea, we will add “E” which states ‘none of the above’ is correct. Cruelty, thy vowel is “E.”

We will call these standardized tests, which will then go through multiple revisions and changes almost every other year, typically making adjustments that in the end tend to make them easier to pass, and non-standard when compared with the previous year’s test. Then we are going to get folks with all kinds of letters behind their names to declare that these tests are the best standard for judging the effectiveness of our school’s efforts to educate our children. No Child Left Untested becomes the national motto. And to make our cause plausible, we decide to tie testing of this nature in with the amount of money the government will shell out to each school. Now we have a big business going. Show me the money, and I will tell you that most often the correct answer on the test is “B.”

So now we have folks who are paid to get kids to pass these tests, and paid better if they are good at getting kids to choose the right bubble to fill in with a No. 2 pencil. Then we get competition going so that folks in Iowa are trying under cut the test being made in California. And then we have the Cadillac of standardized tests from Standard, I mean Stanford. And then the graft begins, because now its just business, so morals can take a flying leap. We now have monitors in the test room making sure that the teachers are not helping the students during the test. We have big money leading to big graft leading to big scandals and in the end the main folks benefiting are not the students (they just have sore hands from all the bubbles), or the parents (they now see their child as a number, a percentile), or the teachers/schools (who are now more concerned with test scores than anything humanizing like education), but rather the journalists who can smugly write stories about how bad testing has become.

If I sound bitter, its only because its March.


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