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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Six Toxic Assumptions of Standardized Testing

When I speak about the material in Unschooling Rules, I almost inevitably get the question, "if you don't believe in standardized testing, how can we possibly evaluate teachers and students?" (#unrules45)

This statement is, fully un-ironically, such a tacit critique of all of school systems that it cannot go unexplored and unpacked.

Just some of the assumptions are:

  1. Families are not/cannot/ should not be able to choose their own path once in school systems. (Many parents today makes more choices about their coffee than their childrens' K-12 education.) So unlike in a free market system or democracy, choice by user is not a relevant tool for determining success.
  2. There are no external, real world metrics to evaluate how well schools and teachers are doing. In fact, the real world is the enemy to a smooth running educational system, putting uncontrollable variables into schools. This then further encourages schools to expand (at massive taxpayer cost, of course) to replace life as much as possible as early as possible and for as long as possible to improve the purity of the test results (http://www.educationnews.org/ed_reports/edu_assoc_articles/153528.html).
  3. Students are consistent test takers week to week.
  4. School management cannot be trusted to manage.
  5. Students should all learn the same material. There is one way of "winning" for students.
  6. The content in (and process of taking) standardized tests are an accurate and relatively complete microcosm of valuable and valued content.
To embrace testing as the single criterion means almost necessarily rejecting the role of families, rejecting the value of real world experiences, rejecting real world evaluations of success, rejecting school management, and rejecting students' different interests and passions.

Even people in charge of call-centers and sales incentives, two of the most measured business activities out there, are realizing the fallacy of too narrow metrics that drive terrible unintended consequences. Maybe someday our school systems will learn the same thing.


  1. I would like to see a documentary made, similar to "Supersize Me" where a parent goes into a school and asks teachers, administrators, anyone who will listen, to please alter his child's curriculum towards something he's more interested. Tweaks here and there, or even drastic changes. I'd pay good money to see the blustering and scrambling to try to figure out why this guy wants what he wants, and how to tell him no in a way that he'll "understand".

  2. @Rob - Very funny! Or ask how concepts like leadership or innovation are taught.