Thursday, September 27, 2012

What if America enlisted as much creativity in rethinking standardized testing as Mitt Romney has placed in paying his taxes?

Essentially, here is what Nikhil Goyal asked Mitt Romney:
Given that standardized testing in America has increased to historic levels and has had negative effects such as stripping billions of dollars from classroom budgets, increases in teaching to the test, and decreases in creativity, how would you as President change this trend?
Here's a summary of Romney's 3 minute response:
Because I know no other way, I'm not going to change anything about standardized testing, so you better just get used to it. In fact, I plan on intensifying standardized testing to rank and sort not only students but teachers, too. 
Let's examine this video of Mitt Romney and his take on education and testing more closely.
ROMNEY: First of all, you will find through out your life that there are tests.
There is a big difference between preparing kids for a life of tests and preparing them for the tests of life. Defenders of standardized, fill-in-the-bubble, forced-choice examinations have the audacity to cite a 'real world' need for such examinations, and yet standardized testing is what constitutes an amazingly contrived and unrealistic form of assessment.
ROMNEY: I don't know a way to evaluate the progress of students other than by evaluating it through testing of some kind or another.
At this point, I'm prepared to give Romney full credit for admitting his ignorance and incompetence around education and testing. At least he's being honest. It is very likely that Romney actually knows no other way than standardized testing -- but this is not an argument for testing, it's an indictment of his limited understanding and exposure to more authentic forms of assessment such as project-based learning, performance assessments and portfolios. Unlike policymakers and politicians who see education from 30,000 feet up, progressive educators engage in this kind of assessment everyday. Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it's the only one you have. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail; If the only tool you have is a standardized test, every child looks like a number 2 pencil. If Romney truly wanted to broaden his understanding for how to assess learning, maybe he should talk to a teacher.
ROMNEY: If there are tests that are ineffective or that measure things that are not really relevant, obviously you try and improve the test, but you'll still have an SAT when you graduate from high school.
Too many people assume that standardized tests measure the quality of education. This assumption gets us into a lot of trouble because standardized tests were never intended to serve this purpose. Standardized tests are a tool for ranking individual students not rating whole classrooms, schools or nations. There's also strong evidence to suggest that standardized tests are really measuring out-of-school factors such as affluence and poverty (Here's an American example and a Canadian example). A little known fact is that the SAT actually stands for nothing. Clinging on to these blunt instruments and merely tinkering and refining them is the equivalent to re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It's also important to note that real learning is not found in teacher grades or student tests. The best way to know if a child is learning is to watch them learn. There is no substitute. Testsandgrades merely offer a crutch to those who wish to judge schools without ever spending time in schools. It's important to note that any intelligent conversation about standardized tests would have to include understanding Campbell's Law and the MacNamara Fallacy, both of which Romney appears to have no clue.
ROMNEY: You'll find that through out your life that there are going to be tests. We always complain about them. I complain about them when I was a student, and we don't like tests but there is really no other way we've found out to determine whether a student is succeeding or not succeeding, or frankly whether the teacher is succeeding or not succeeding. So I don't have a better model.
The costs of standardized testing and victims of standardized testing are prevalent. Shrugging or snickering at them as if they are like the weather is not a responsible or professional position to take. Martin Luther King Jr once said, "The day we see truth and do not speak is the day we begin to die." Apathy is runs rampant enough in our society, we certainly don't need our leaders to be also. Some people see standardized testing like death and taxes where resistance is futile. But I wish Romney would see standardized testing more like his taxes. What if America enlisted as much creativity in rethinking standardized testing as Romney has placed in paying his taxes?
ROMNEY: If teaching to the test means learning how to read and write and learning how to do basic math skills then there's nothing terribly wrong with that. 
Testing is not teaching. Writing a test is not learning. Tests can only measure a sample of what we would ever want our children to learn and become. What is on the test might not be as important as what is not on the test. As a parent and an educator I want my children to grow up and live a happy and meaningful life that is full of creativity, empathy, family, courage, integrity, honesty, curiosity, motivation, responsibility, citizenry, leadership, innovation, ingenuity and love. This is but a small list of very important things that standardized tests ignore which is why encouraging teaching to the test needlessly narrows the educational opportunities that we want and need for our children. Proponents of teaching to the test are either irresponsibly ignorant or dangerously deceptive -- either way, they have no business being our leaders.
ROMNEY: What I was concerned about before we had these kinds of tests is that you might have faculty members go off in a completely different tangent from the basic math, english and science skills our kids need to succeed.
Well, you've heard it from Romney himself. He sees standardized tests as a way of managing and disciplining teachers. Even if you are a teacher-hater and see no problem with this kind of adversarial relationship between politicians and teachers, you can't ignore the fact that standardized tests were never created to serve this function.
ROMNEY: I'm not going to replace testing. I'd love to improve it.
This tells you everything you need to know about where Romney wants to take American education. Heck, even the Chinese are moving away from their love affair with testing. This also goes to show that the standardized test and punish brand of accountability is not a daring departure from the status quo -- in fact, it is the status quo that has been sucking the life out of classrooms for decades. Romney is a brilliant example of what I call the American education contradiction: Use standardized test scores to show that public education in the United States is failing but then implement market-based reforms that are almost entirely contradictory to the reforms and policies found in high achieving countries.
ROMNEY: I'd love to have the students grade the teachers at the end of the year, as opposed to just the other way around so that teachers get feedback.
Testsandgrades are a primitive form of feedback. Assigning people a score or a grade does nothing to inform them of what they are doing well, or what they can improve -- all they can do is rank and sort. Testsandgrades are not about feedback or learning, they are about manipulation. Romney likes testing because he can use testing to manipulate and control the public in a way that undermines public education and teachers' unions.

ROMNEY: I hope students are very involved in the political process and in the process in the quality of your education.

Ultimately, I find it sadly ironic that Romney can look 17 year old Nikhil Goyal in the eye and say that he hopes students get involved more in shaping their education system, but then spend 3 minutes lecturing him on how, as President of the United States, he would merely ignore and intensify the ills of standardized testing -- and that Nikhil, and other kids like him, should just get used to it.

Under what circumstances would this be deemed exemplary leadership?


  1. Hello Joe,

    Here you can hear some of Nikhil Goyal ideas, hope you like them.

    Learning revolution:


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Joe, I loved this post. I saw it since Nikhil posted it to his facebook page. It's a great blog you're running here. I just started an education based blog myself and have listed you under the "Innovative Educators" part of my "Other Resources" page. I just made a new post, the title for which was inspired by your title here. I cited this article also, in order to thank you for the inspiration though the post is about an entirely different topic. If you have a moment, check it out.

    My blog is still in its infancy but I hope to start doing weekly interview-based articles with innovative educators and inspired learners every week. If you think you're ever interested in talking so that I might write something based on our conversation, get ahold of me! until then, I'll be following along with your thoughts and hope you find some appreciation in mine as well. Godspeed.

  4. Joshua,

    I read your post. Great read! You make some inconvenient points about the sink hole that higher education has become. I find it ironic that higher Ed costs are skyrocketing at a time when some of these Institutions might be already irrelevant. Unless something is done to tame the debt beast for students this will be yet one more factor that will contribute to the income inequality that is already driving the middle class the way of the Do-Do bird.

    Finland has a better model. All education Kindergarten to Post Secondary is paid by the government. Equity leads to excellence not the other way around.

    Thanks for the email and the offer to so an interview project. I'd love to participate. Let me know how you want to proceed.

    Keep in touch


    1. Joe, Nearly half of high school kids in Finland graduate from top vocational training schools


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