SAT language scores aren’t near the levels seen in the early 1970’s. Some test-takers resort to cheating, most recently seven teens from Great Neck, NY who hired an impersonator to stand in (well, sit in) for them. The company that administers the SAT estimates cheating, mostly by collaboration, occurs in only one-tenth of 1 percent of the 2.25 million students who take the test annually. That seems insignificant, but it underscores a larger problem—our test-obsessed educational system.
E. D. Hirsch Jr., author of The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed that declining verbal scores have to do with enduring school days stripped of “substantial and coherent lessons concerning the human and natural worlds…” He goes on to note,
The most credible analyses have shown that the chief causes were not demographics or TV watching, but vast curricular changes, especially in the critical early grades. In the decades before the Great Verbal Decline, a content-rich elementary school experience evolved into a content-light, skills-based, test-centered approach.
I don’t agree with Hirsch’s basic stance that a core curriculum be taught in every U.S. school but he’s got a point. It’s not a new point. Learning has taken a hit heavy hit from the emphasis on standardized tests. The zombifying effect on schools, teachers and kids brought by high stakes testing isn’t pretty.
Even in the best districts, attaining those all-important numbers eliminates opportunities for innovation and time to work with students’ interests. Less stellar districts see their schools under test-heavy siege charged with getting results or getting eliminated. This drive also shapes the kind of material students see, relentlessly preparing them to reach higher for the Almighty Score while giving scant attention to more complex yet essential skills for higher learning like critical thinking, creativity, initiative, and persistence.
Why this emphasis on testing? We assume policy-makers know what they’re doing. Surely they haven’t been restructuring education based on bare numbers unless they have substantial proven results. Greater competiveness on the world market or at least greater individual success?
Here are some eye-opening facts from my book:
National test scores
It’s widely assumed that national test score rankings are vitally important indicators of a country’s future. To improve those rankings, national core standards are imposed with more frequent assessments to determine student achievement (meaning more testing).
Do test scores actually make a difference to a nation’s future?
Results from international mathematics and science tests from a fifty-year period were compared to future economic competitiveness by those countries in a study by Christopher H. Tienken. Across all indicators he could find minimal evidence that students’ high test scores produce value for their countries. He concluded that higher student test scores were unrelated to any factors consistently predictive of a developed country’s growth and competitiveness.
In another such analysis, Keith Baker, a former researcher for the U.S. Department of Education, examined achievement studies across the world to see if they reflected the success of participating nations. Using numerous comparisons, including national wealth, degree of democracy, economic growth and even happiness, Baker found no association between test scores and the success of advanced countries. Merely average test scores were correlated with successful nations while top test scores were not. Baker explains, “In short, the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance . . .” He goes on to speculate whether testing [or forms of education emphasizing testing] itself may be damaging to a nation’s future.
Individual test scores
What about individual success?
Educational reformer Alfie Kohn explains, “Research has repeatedly classified kids on the basis of whether they tend to be deep or shallow thinkers, and, for elementary, middle, and high school students, a positive correlation has been found between shallow thinking and how well kids do on standardized tests. So an individual student’s high test scores are not usually a good sign.”
Why do we push standardized tests if it has been demonstrated that the results are counterproductive? Well, we’ve been told that this is the price children must pay in order to achieve success. This is profound evidence of societal shallow thinking, because the evidence doesn’t stack up.
Research shows that high test scores in school don’t correlate with later accomplishments in adulthood such as career advancement or social leadership.
We’ve known this for a long time. Back in 1985, the research seeking to link academic success with later success was examined. It was appropriated titled “Do grades and tests predict adult accomplishment?”
The criteria for academic success isn’t a direct line to lifetime success. Studies show that grades and test scores do not necessarily correlate to later accomplishments in such areas as social leadership, the arts, or the sciences. Grades and tests only do a good job at predicting how well youth will do in subsequent academic grades and tests. They are not good predictors of success in real-life problem solving or career advancement.
Kids certainly cheat because they haven’t prepared for the test, but they also may cheat because they simply see the whole testing game as a farce. A survey of 43,000 high school students showed that 59 percent admitted cheating on a test during the past year.
What can we do?
Some of us homeschool.
Some parents submit compelling letters telling schools they will not permit their children to be tested, part of a larger opt out movement.
Some are heartened by the ever-growing list of four year colleges that don’t require the ACT or SAT for admission.
Do you think high-stakes testing cheats our kids?
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