Standardized Tests: Ideology in the Guise of Impartial “Measurement”

How aware are you of how schools (systems and single–like districts or single elementary or secondary units) are measured “successful”?

Graduation rates?  Percentage of graduates pursuing further education?  Percentage of graduates employed?  Percentage of drop-outs?  Average grade-point per student?

Should we also consider budgets?  Family economic factors?  State lunch programs?  Should we weight success using these economic factors?  Perhaps a “C” student who’s family lives below the poverty line would be rated a “B” student or higher due to those mitigating factors.

Should these factors even matter?

Currently students and schools are assessed via federal and state testing standards in core subject areas.  In this respect “grades” or past performance of individual students are not considered.  They are irrelevant while what is relevant is one’s ability to test well in particular content areas in particular testing formats.  And though test scores in schools with high levels of poverty are noted as such, poverty is not an excuse for poor scores.  (Though poor teaching always seems to a useful explanation.)

I might go on and on about the difficulties of making these kinds of assessment meaningful as regards measuring learning or even, as so many are wont to do, as measures of successful teaching (and unsuccessful teaching); it is far easier to make the very meaningful claim that students that score well on tests are good at taking tests.  Can we extrapolate more from that?  Unless you test often, sporadically and intermittently through the year and continually through the duration of kids as students it would be hard to know how those test scores are meaningful outside of the singular measurement of one test

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Now, you likely know that testing is indeed lateral over years…3rd graders test, 6th graders test, 8th graders test…etc.  And these can then be tracked.  But still, how do we know anything other than the results of that test.  In other words, why do we assume these results are indicative and/or predictive of “success” within the environment of schools and beyond.

Have we defined “success” yet?  Do we go back to the above and start asking those same questions about poverty and jobs and ethnicity and family/home-life?

The reason states and corporate organizations like tests is because they allow simple measurements and simple tracking parameters.  Of course, “what” is measured is never really addressed other than the abstract idea that certain levels of scoring yield acceptable “educational” results.  Although, we might suggest that these results CAN be achieved entirely without schools.  Hmm…interesting, yes?

Standards testing is really meaningless as an indicator of anything other than knowing particular state-determined and state-valued  standards at a particular point in time.  “Who” is the “state” that determines these things? What can they tell us about healthy socialization (and how is that defined); about the kinds of learners present; about the physical health of those taking the tests (nutritional assessments)?

In my opinion this kind of testing is a means to the furtherance of particular social and political agenda.  It is my opinion that testing serves the same goal or rather serves “in tandem” the goals of the politics of privatization; testing, charter schools, vouchers all serve to push money out to the “market” instead of improving our public system.  The public schools won’t strengthen themselves because funding is funneled to agenda-driven educational institutions like parochial schools; when funding goes, materials go, teachers go, students go.  Public education can’t compete against the “endless” coffers of private funding.  Private schools should be indeed privately funded and privately managed and privately assessed.  In no way should public funds, tax dollars managed by elected officials, be used for that private education.

It becomes ideological to start speaking out against the “value” of market competition but it seems worth saying that product markets don’t “seek” good outcomes for people–product markets in the protectionist “capital” system we have serve the producers and producers serve the bottom-line of profit for interested parties.

The very social and cultural goal that is education is not served by markets.  It is served by communities agreeing that intelligent and empathetic children will serve the future of humanity in providing a “good” life for ALL humans.  “Winners” in market competition serve themselves and replicate themselves and have no interest in even defining a “good life” beyond accumulation of wealth and success (in the form of influence and power).

Recently our local newspaper has been reporting on several education related topics here in Bloomington and statewide while not investigating any of them.  The Errant will try to flesh out some of these issues in the coming dog days as we head into a new school year.


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