Groundhog Day Redux: Standardized Testing casts long shadow over education

Each year Groundhog Day reflects to me equal parts optimism and ennui. Optimism because, well, a soothsaying celebrity rodent seems refreshingly naive and pagan. If only life could always be that simple. We could be taking our cues from gerbils and garden slugs, even the lowly paramecium. I figure we’d be off the hook for nuclear waste and climate change. 

Ennui because, well, like the annual appearance of our celebrity rodent, in the education world the carousel ride too often rotates the same issues and the same piffle justifying them.

Standardized testing remains an issue that keeps coming around, a bellwether of a dark voyage in education. The tests I see, the stories I hear bear out the truth: standardized tests, for the most part, are exercises of the shallowest integrity at evaluating authentic knowledge and competency. That it continues to be pressed into service in the face of what we now know about optimizing neurobiological learning beggars my mind. And many others, too.  

And yet too many educators, administrators and politicians fall over themselves reciting pious homilies to this false god. 

In British Columibia if it’s winter then it must be time for the FSA testing, which I have administered in SelfDesign for 7 years now. I reject any assertion that these tests are statistically reliable indicators of knowledge and competency, period. 

I feel the the same about standardized tests thoughout high school – the BC Ministry of Education should be thoroughly ashamed of itself for bringing forth a Science 10 exam that is entirely comprised of 70 multiple choice questions. 

As should the post-secondary institutions that do the same in first and second year courses. The basis for such testing (and its complementary service as an assessment “instrument”) is as repellent to me today as it was when I endured it many years ago, learning along the way that such standardized testing was foremost part of a “weeding practice” to help winnow student numbers. Now my daughter and her peers are enduring the same vacuous experiences.

It is scandalous to continue such a practice without evidence to support it. And considering the challenges that students – young people – are facing today at the time they embrace post-secondary learning opportunities (as well as sky-rocketing tuition), it is highly unethical, too. 

Groundhog Day – the movie – told the story of how personal transformation helped resolve a recurring nightmare. Just the kind of thing we need to break free of the nightmare of standardized testing. It’s time to advertise for celebrity rodents.   

If he could talk, Wiarton Willie would say that Standardized Testing 
will continue to cast a shadow over education until we dump it. 

For more reference information about the pitfalls of standardized testing, consult Books by Alfie Kohn are also recommended.

For information on my book: Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want, Starting Now (2011) and to order a copy, go here.   
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