Review by Jonathan Pollard
Many years ago, tests were
administered mostly to decide placement of students in their classes, or
to ascertain which students needed additional help. Today, test
scores are quoted by newspapers; they are used as the primary criteria
for judging the success or failure of students, teachers, and school.
They are used by public officials to
impose their will upon the educational system. From an
international perspective, our situation must seem entirely unusual.
Few countries administer exams to children so young, or with such a
frequency as we do.
Our children are tested to an extent that is
unmatched in the history of our society. There is no
more discussion of learning or of new educational methods. Kohn
states that the educational discourse in our nation has been limited to
the following statement: "Test scores are too low. Make them go
Over the past few decades, testing
has increasingly become a decidedly political issue. Testing
allows politicians to display their concern for the school system.
Test scores offer a simple means of gratification. Demanding
increased test scores fits nicely with political buzzwords such as
'accountability' and 'tougher standards'. Some people might argue
that such accountability is necessary and that we need an objective
means of measuring students' achievements. But do standardized
tests truly provide an objective measure of achievement, and if not,
then what do they measure? Kohn argues that they do not, making
the following points:
First and foremost, we must ask
ourselves if we are truly measuring something that is important.
Are we measuring intelligence and practical ability, or
are we simply measuring test-taking ability?
• Though standardized testing may seem to be something of a
scientific nature, they are nothing at all
similar to, for example, the process of
measuring the size and weight of an object. Though they are
objective, in the sense that they are sometimes scored by machines,
they are decidedly subjective, in
that they are created by human beings. People write the questions,
which may be confusing, biased, or even stupid. Furthermore,
people decided which questions to include, and which ones to exclude.
• Many proponents of
standardized testing argue that it is not
'realistic' to think
that we could eliminate such exams. People who are worried about
reality and the 'real-world' ought to realize that artificial exercises
such as standardized tests are unrealistic,
and do nothing whatsoever toward preparing students for life outside of
results don't necessarily indicate achievement, but rather,
tend to be much more accurate indicators of the size of a
student's house or the income of the student's parents. Research
has indicated that the amount of poverty found in a community, and
other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with what happens in
the classroom, account for the great majority of differences in test
scores from one area to another.
• Rather than providing the
opportunity for students to demonstrate
a higher level of reasoning ability, or carry out any form of
extended analysis, standardized tests stress a
more superficial level of reasoning, and are most typically
extensive exercises in short term memory.
Learn more by visiting Alfie Kohn's
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