TESTS That Fail Democracy.The language of standardization appears to denote equity, of assuring that all children receive the same education. Behind the usages of these terms in educational policy, however, is a far different political and pedagogical ped·a·gog·ic also ped·a·gog·i·cal
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of pedagogy.
2. Characterized by pedantic formality: a haughty, pedagogic manner. reality.
--Linda McNeil, Contradictions of School Reform
It's Tuesday and the hum around the high school is squarely focused on the latest test scores and the windfall they have produced for schools in the more affluent parts of town. To nobody's surprise, generous scholarships are being doled out Adj. 1. doled out - given out in portions
apportioned, dealt out, meted out, parceled out
distributed - spread out or scattered about or divided up in droves to the most wealthy districts. In Okemos, Michigan--where the newly constructed senior high has the extravagant look of a five-star hotel--the district has garnered thousands of dollars for its elevated exam scores. No surprise here, since the schools are populated by the sons and daughters of professors from nearby Michigan State University Michigan State University, at East Lansing; land-grant and state supported; coeducational; chartered 1855. It opened in 1857 as Michigan Agricultural College, the first state agricultural college. . These are kids who grow up around this kind of academic knowledge. This is part of their world.
Indeed, in the new political game to hold kids and schools accountable through standardized tests, the clear winners are emerging from the privileged class--from those who most eloquently manipulate Standard English Stan·dard English
The variety of English that is generally acknowledged as the model for the speech and writing of educated speakers.
Usage Note: People who invoke the term Standard English and are most assiduously as·sid·u·ous
1. Constant in application or attention; diligent: an assiduous worker who strove for perfection. See Synonyms at busy.
2. versed in the official language of academia.
Few winners, in contrast, come from districts that reside in the inner city, where tests seem like official ways to expose indolence. And while many politicians have suggested that tests act only to expose inferior teaching and initiative, those inside the schools know better. Tests aren't about measuring performance. Rather, they are governmental strategies to abandon children from lower socioeconomic areas while controlling schools and teachers. Instead of broadening the curriculum to make it more accessible to nontraditional pupils--and rather than offering students innovative assessment alternatives--the standardized test policy represents a way to legitimize le·git·i·mize
tr.v. le·git·i·mized, le·git·i·miz·ing, le·git·i·miz·es
le·git the status quo [Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy. while proving the inferiority of the disenfranchised student.
Endemic in this plan is the conspicuous absence of democracy and inclusiveness. Minority students tend not to do as well because they aren't given the time they need to process information, write essays, and unravel the foreign culture they are being asked to identify. Teachers, on the other hand, are relegated to the periphery, distributing exams that have nothing to do with their classrooms, students, or lesson plans. The entire process has become centralized, standardized, and monolithic. While democracy seeks active involvement from various perspectives, tests encourage fealty fealty: see feudalism. toward a single organ of truth. Teachers, then, follow dictates from the state, while students equate success with unearthing the questions created on the latest state exam.
In Michigan, the process has become analogous to a Camus novel. Poor students from the most gritty and neglected parts of the state are routinely denied scholarships because they haven't learned to master a test that was supposedly designed to even the playing field. Well-off students, on the other hand, win thousands of scholarship dollars, despite their financial readiness to attend the most prestigious colleges and universities. Indeed, in awarding the affluent these scholarships of $2,500, the Michigan Assessment of Educational Progress (MEAP MEAP Manning Early Access Program
MEAP Multifunctional Embedded Application Platform
MEAP Michigan Education Assessment Program
MEAP Maryland Energy Assistance Program
MEAP Minority Ethnic Achievement Project (UK) ) has exacerbated the chasm between rich and poor. In Michigan, as with most states that administer standardized assessments, the vast majority of scholarship winners come from the ranks of the college-bound--from the carefully manicured suburbs and prep schools. Statistics from the 2000 testing year show that 80 percent of the students in the wealthy district of Bloomfield Hills garnered scholarships, while a paltry 6 percent earned them from the Detroit area. For a nation that aspires to fairness, it is a paradoxical and troubling way to "leave no child behind."
In her book Contradictions of School Reform, Linda McNeil chronicles the way standardized tests subvert the complex, student-based education that transpires in quality institutions. In its place, writes McNeil, is a watered down version that is more congruent with the simplified demands of a standardized test. "This fragmentation of course content," adds McNeil, "tended to disembody dis·em·bod·y
tr.v. dis·em·bod·ied, dis·em·bod·y·ing, dis·em·bod·ies
1. To free (the soul or spirit) from the body.
2. To divest of material existence or substance. the curriculum, divorcing it from the teachers' knowledge of the subject, and from the epistemologies, the ways of knowing, within the subject itself."
McNeil's book, it is instructive to note, was written about the standardized testing system in George W. Bush's Texas and the deleterious effects it had on that state's education. Throughout her study, McNeil reveals a series of inconsistencies in the lofty claims made by the test designers and the later reported results. From the start, for example, it was clear that the exams were undermining the education of poor students by reducing their class work to the most simplistic sim·plism
The tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.
[French simplisme, from simple, simple, from Old French; see simple memorization. The overall conflation (database) conflation - Combining or blending of two or more versions of a text; confusion or mixing up. Conflation algorithms are used in databases. of content and the lack of choice--as well as the virtual abandonment of creative excursions away from test material--reduced the curriculum to a dumbed-down, truncated education. Students were denied the basic right to learn in personally relevant ways because the road to success was so closely aligned to the results of a single exam. Indeed, how could one justify doing anything that wasn't on the test? And why would teachers try innovative alternatives if the results wouldn't show up on the exam? "In reality these policies of standardization are decreasing the quality of teaching and learning in our schools, especially in the schools of poor and minority children," McNeil suggests.
Thus, students who are more likely to perform poorly on the exam are the first to become part of intensive, all-consuming programs of teaching to the test. In her study of Texas, McNeil found teachers who were abandoning time-honored assignments so as to spend more hours on test preparation. Again, the results of this monomania MONOMANIA. med. jur. Insanity only upon a particular subject; and with a single delusion of the mind.
2. The most simple form of this disorder is that in which the patient has imbibed some single notion, contrary to common sense and to his own experience, and can only be appreciated with a certain amount of probing and analysis. As a rule, standardized tests measure subjects and disciplines in simplistic, multiple-choice formats. Replacing the essay question, which liberates the writer to incorporate a succession of theories and statistics--and become a better writer through writing--the typical standardized exam reduces the assessment process to multiple guess and stunts development of comprehension skills. For minority students, then, the goal is not more writing and reading but more memorization--more of the stultifying games that work auspiciously for test scores but serve students poorly in a complex world.
The result? Instead of exploring the themes in Conrad's Heart of Darkness Heart of Darkness
adventure tale of journey into heart of the Belgian Congo and into depths of man’s heart. [Br. Lit.: Heart of Darkness, Magill III, 447–449]
See : Journey or another canonical classic, students are limited to questions that can fit neatly on a bubble sheet. This often means relegating participants to a game-show education: naming authors and dates without ever penetrating their significance or demonstrating the more complex thinking skills that accompany their evaluation. In a world that is becoming more reliant on higher level thinking skills and the ability to craft new ideas "New Ideas" is the debut single by Scottish New Wave/Indie Rock act The Dykeenies. It was first released as a Double A-side with "Will It Happen Tonight?" on July 17, 2006. The band also recorded a video for the track. and solve problems, how does one rationalize the standardized test?
Throughout her study, McNeil tries to answer such vexing questions. The Texas standardized exam has little to do with the poetic, the dramatic, or the innovative. In many instances, McNeil found teachers forsaking elaborate research projects and cultural studies in an attempt to prepare for the test. Supplanting the most progressive and provocative lessons were test-prep packets designed specifically to teach kids how to raise their scores. "The decision to use such materials," McNeil laments, "forces teachers to set aside their own best knowledge of their subject in order to drill their students on information whose primary (and often sole) usefulness is its likely inclusion on the test."
Such revelations also help to expose the anti-democratic, despotic character of standardized testing. Rather than assisting schools to assess more accurately and effectively, these tests tend to subvert the desire to treat kids as individuals and tend to discourage teacher autonomy in choosing what is best for their students. Most vexing, though, are the dictatorial aspects of the exam. While the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. has evolved into a mosaic of various cultures and icons, the test conflates and often negates the diversity that should be studied and celebrated. Because it is standardized, it is monolithic and unresponsive to the voices of others. Only those people and movements which are tested are fair game for study. Why read Malcolm X Malcolm X, 1925–65, militant black leader in the United States, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, b. Malcolm Little in Omaha, Neb. He was introduced to the Black Muslims while serving a prison term and became a Muslim minister upon his release in 1952. if he is not on the exam? In predominantly Hispanic areas of the nation, cultural pantheons are neglected simply because the test is unresponsive to the diversity of its constituents.
Again, one can see the insidious way such exams affect poor and traditionally disaffected populations. With test selections typically constructed by those who approach knowledge and education from their own cultural and historical values, it is virtually impossible to design an exam that touches the many colors of our national tapestry. Suddenly, the melting pot melting pot
America as the home of many races and cultures. [Am. Pop. Culture: Misc.]
See : America has become a place where certain ingredients are effaced, where the recipe values some flavors over others.
The Texas plan, chronicled by McNeil, is disquieting dis·qui·et
tr.v. dis·qui·et·ed, dis·qui·et·ing, dis·qui·ets
To deprive of peace or rest; trouble.
Absence of peace or rest; anxiety.
Uneasy; restless. not only in what it tells us about Texas but also in what it reveals about George W. Bush and his national plan for educational accountability. First, it is instructive to note that Bush chose Rod Paige Roderick Raynor "Rod" Paige (born June 17, 1933), served as the 7th United States Secretary of Education from 2001 to 2005. Paige, who grew up in Mississippi, built a career on a belief that education equalizes opportunity, moving from college dean and school superintendent to be , a Houston superintendent and test advocate, as his Secretary of Education. Paige is one of Bush's most vocal proponents and is perhaps most remembered for his appearance on 60 Minutes, when he derided teachers who complained about the testing mania in Texas, implying that dissenters dissenters: see nonconformists. were afraid of hard work and accountability.
Under the Bush plan, then, one can expect more of the oppressive standardized testing system that was so dehumanizing in Texas during his tenure as governor. While McNeil's book captures the zeal with Which Bush tested kids in his home state--and the inimical inimical,
n a homeopathic remedy whose actions hinder, but do not counteract those of another. Also called
incompatible. effects it had on minorities--reports out of Washington, D.C., suggest that much of the same is planned nationally. Indeed, the centerpiece of the Bush educational initiative is predicated upon the efficacy of standardized, systematic testing. And when kids don't measure up, the Bush agenda calls for vouchers and the concomitant withdrawal of public dollars from the "failing school."
Not surprisingly, teachers in the United States' poorest districts are wary. "When I hear the word vouchers," said a teacher from one of Kansas' poorest schools, "I get scared and wonder how much they're going to take away from us." Indeed, with standardized tests at their acme, many are wondering how unfair and ineffective the system can get.
In Michigan, where the affluent continue to garner awards that clearly aren't needed, the cities of Detroit and Benton Harbor--where the neighborhoods are decidedly more black and brown --find that there is precious little to be gained from the MEAP scholarship awards. Perhaps this is why the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nonpartisan organization devoted to the preservation and extension of the basic rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution. has filed suit against the exam, asserting that the test is an "unconscionable Unusually harsh and shocking to the conscience; that which is so grossly unfair that a court will proscribe it.
When a court uses the word unconscionable to describe conduct, it means that the conduct does not conform to the dictates of conscience. use of public funds See Fund, 3.
See also: Public ."
More troubling is the conclusions of a six-month study reported by Heather Newman in the January 21, 1998, Detroit Free Press The Detroit Free Press is the largest daily newspaper in Detroit, Michigan, USA. It is sometimes informally referred to as the "Freep". Some still refer to it locally as "The Friendly" -- a slogan from an ad campaign in the '70s. . In "Fair Assessment of Students a Thorny Issue," Newman shows that more than half of the differences between the district's scores can be predicted by students' troubles at home. "It is no surprise," she writes, "that districts with less educated parents, high turnover rates, or low per-pupil state aid tended to do worse than those [which] had more educational advantages."
In short, Michigan's standardized test has become a pretext for rewarding prosperity while punishing poverty. Instead of championing innovation, tenacity, and resilience, it is a windfall for rich kids who have no need of scholarships from the state. "What do taxpayers gain by helping to finance the college education of students who were college-bound in any event?" asks Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson in the April 5, 2000, issue. Indeed, when the canard ca·nard
1. An unfounded or false, deliberately misleading story.
a. A short winglike control surface projecting from the fuselage of an aircraft, such as a space shuttle, mounted forward of the main wing and of accountability is exposed, who is really served by standardized tests?
State exams, like those in Michigan and Texas, are bad but certainly not the end of our nation's appetite for simplistic assessment. For decades, the Scholastic Aptitude Test ap·ti·tude test
An occupation-oriented test for evaluating intelligence, achievement, and interest. , otherwise known as the SAT has towered over students and served as a political cudgel against poorly funded schools. Like the state exams, which are designed to make governors look educationally responsive, the SAT has been used historically to undermine democracy by creating specious spe·cious
1. Having the ring of truth or plausibility but actually fallacious: a specious argument.
2. Deceptively attractive. ways to avoid adequate and equal funding. Want to find an easy excuse for not funding poorer kids? Simply cite the lower SAT scores and demand improvement before funding is renewed.
This, we remember, was the strategy during the Reagan era, when Education Secretary William Bennett used SAT scores as a whip against schools--usually urban--that failed to raise scores. As with state tests, the big losers in this scenario are minority-populated schools, where nontraditional students grapple to unravel a test that was designed to predict the success of students in college. "SAT scores were never intended to be aggregated for evaluating the achievements of teachers, schools, school districts, or states, and such scores have no validity when used for such evaluations," writes David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle in their 1995 book, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools.
So when the media and politicians unite to indict in·dict
tr.v. in·dict·ed, in·dict·ing, in·dicts
1. To accuse of wrongdoing; charge: a book that indicts modern values.
2. schools for lower SAT scores, the sure loser is the minority system--those institutions that have fewer experienced test takers, those who have fewer resources for exam improvement. Thus it is not surprising to find that SAT scores, like their state counterparts, are easily aligned with socioeconomic background. "The average SAT score earned by students goes down by fifteen points for each decrease of $10,000 in family income," adds Berliner and Biddle. This means that, whenever colleges make decisions about students based on the SAT, they are again subverting democracy by failing to extend equal opportunity to indigent indigent 1) n. a person so poor and needy that he/she cannot provide the necessities of life (food, clothing, decent shelter) for himself/herself. 2) n. one without sufficient income to afford a lawyer for defense in a criminal case. students.
Perhaps this is why Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California The University of California has a combined student body of more than 191,000 students, over 1,340,000 living alumni, and a combined systemwide and campus endowment of just over $7.3 billion (8th largest in the United States). , has suggested that the California system stop using SATs as a measure for student applications. "I want examinations that are directly tied to the curriculum, not examinations like the SAT that are really very vague, and it's almost impossible to determine what they indeed are measuring," said Atkinson in a February 17, 2001, ABC News report.
Throughout the nation, the testing craze has resulted in a series of responses from scholars and politicians, who are uniting to demand better, more just assessment procedures. The National Council of Teachers of English Mission
As stated on their official website, the NCTE ( National Council of Teachers of English) is a professional organization dedicated to "improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education. has spoken out against high stakes testing and the antithetical an·ti·thet·i·cal also an·ti·thet·ic
1. Of, relating to, or marked by antithesis.
2. Being in diametrical opposition. See Synonyms at opposite. qualities it brings to the learning context. Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota has labeled the standardized testing craze a "straightjacket" that is "channeling teaching to the kind of rote memorization drill that isn't education." Long-time educator and writer Frank Smith perhaps best captures the essential problem with testing when he contends that "there is one reason only for the insistent control of programmatic instruction and tests in classrooms. That reason is lack of trust."
What, then, is the answer? How do we hold schools accountable without testing?
First, it is time that we learn to trust educators and purge the classroom of the political wrangling that has spawned these ineffective and simplistic tests. If one wonders about accountability, there should be a way to examine entire programs rather than simply looking at a single test score, which invariably in·var·i·a·ble
Not changing or subject to change; constant.
in·vari·a·bil will abbreviate any performance. In this spirit, then, we must recognize the fact that assessments of our schools don't have to come in the form of tests. In a nation as diverse as the United States, it is time to develop evaluative programs that respect the many competencies that exist in its myriad cultures.
Despite what many would have us believe, there is no such thing as an objective, all-encompassing test. There are no tests that prove anything beyond their own narrow boundaries and even fewer that have any congruency con·gru·en·cy
n. pl. con·gru·en·cies
Congruence. with local schools. How many of us have walked away from an exam with the disquieting realization that our true potential was clearly not demonstrated? Wouldn't it be wiser to come to terms with the fact that assessment is complicated, sophisticated--that it can never be effectively reduced to a single test?
Today, it makes sense to seek more holistic assessment instruments, using portfolios and presentations that demonstrate the totality of a student's knowledge and growth. In the same spirit of the doctoral dissertation, we can evaluate students for complex learning and erudite er·u·dite
Characterized by erudition; learned. See Synonyms at learned.
[Middle English erudit, from Latin analysis by asking them to engage in high-level projects and presentations, which can later be showcased to the public through fairs and public forums. In short, we can demand sophisticated, cerebral education and still maintain local control. This all begins, however, when we transcend the easy simplicity of standardized evaluations and the political agenda they represent.
Gregory Shafer holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan (body, education) University of Michigan - A large cosmopolitan university in the Midwest USA. Over 50000 students are enrolled at the University of Michigan's three campuses. The students come from 50 states and over 100 foreign countries. and teaches at Mott College in Flint.