Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here's what our standardized tests are really measuring. Shame!

Seth Godin does a great job of explaining why doing well on standardized tests does not a great nation make in this video.  

Listen as Godin explains how the founders of public school worked to preserve the interests of corporations (Andrew Carnegie) and government (Woodrow Wilson). Godin quickly outlines that to which those like John Taylor Gatto has devoted hundreds of pages. 

We needed public school for two reasons:
1) We were afraid we'd run out of good factory workers.
2) We were afraid we'd run out of folks who wanted to buy stuff.

So we created public schools to serve two purposes:
1) Train people to be compliant factory workers who were great at sitting in rows and following instructions.
2) We needed to teach people that if they wanted to fit in they needed to buy the stuff we told them to buy.

Our standardized tests measure our success in accomplishing these goals.
That's why people like Yong Zhao who heads Global Ed for University of Oregon explains countries like China are not proud when their students do well on these tests.  They know they kill innovation and creativity.  

Parents, teachers, administrators, do these test scores really make you proud?  If not, what will you do about it?


  1. YES! YES! YES! Let's get rid of the public school system! Let's go back to when children were put to work in mines as young as 5 and had black lung by the time they were teenagers! Are parents too poor to stay home and teach their kids? WHO CARES, IT'S THEIR FAULT THEY'RE POOR! WOOOO! WOOOO! WOOOO!

    Seriously, when's your book coming out?

    1. Sorry to disappoint Anonymous but alas I have no book coming out, only articles for you to ponder at no cost on my blog.

      I wonder why you believe that working to make public schools better serve children equates to abolishing them. Keep reading my friend and let your mind be exposed to alternatives that would better serve all children.

    2. Mr. Anonymous is still following you around, huh? Can't come up with anything worthwhile on his own? And still not wanting to use his name? Lol! You're very memorable in your rash, attacking manner, sir. LMAO!

  2. AS IF that were the only alternative.

    Living in China, I know lots of people are fed up with the educational system here. The system is creepy, really, and does not foster innovation or creativity (lots of things don't here), but there are great things happening in the world of alternative education here too. A small start, but they have started.

  3. Brilliant Seth...once again.

  4. Lisa, While I agree with your disgust of standardized tests, you make a leap between the history of public education and our practice of standardized tests. Rather than reminiscing on why we once needed public education, why not define why we need it today? :)

  5. @Nikkol Bauer,

    I have spent quiet a bit of time in posts in this blog defining what we need today.

    What I share in this article is not a leap. As parents and teachers involved in schooling know, schools are the one institution that has changed very little since they were created. There in lies the connection. Standardized tests measure how well they have achieved our goal. As China has acknowledged, doing well on such tests is not a badge of honor.

    1. The standardized test that I know, measure how well a kid can memorize a year's worth of facts in science or social studies; how well they remember the how to compute a mathematical problem; how well they can read an excerpt an interpret meaning. I personally find little value in this measurement for many reasons, but I also don't think they are good measures to determine whether a kid is a compliant factory worker or buyer of goods (hence my leap comment).

      My point, what is our ultimate goal for our youth? How do we help them get there? And, how do we know they are headed in the right direction?

  6. Hey Lisa!

    I completely agree with Seth message here, and I can definitely see how standardized tests "Train people to be compliant factory workers who were great at sitting in rows and following instructions."

    But I don't understand the second argument. How do standardized tests "...teach people that if they wanted to fit in they needed to buy the stuff we told them to buy."? I'm not seeing the link.

    1. Testing and consumerism go hand in hand. You are told in school that good test scores gets you into a good school, then a good college, which gets you a good degree = a career and a successful life. All the while, success is defined clearly in the media and the classroom as making money to have the best things: cars, houses, clothes etc. If that were not true, schools might offer classes on relationship building or even how to live within your budget. They might encourage discourse on the true meaning of happiness or at least the pursuit thereof. But they don't, because those things are not so easily defined or manipulated.

  7. As a teacher and a mother of three (two who are adults now), standardized tests don't teach a lot more than whether or not someone knows how to take one. It doesn't measure what they know; it measures what they crammed to learn and might remember in a month, but most likely won't.
    Our public school system is archaic and needs to change. We need more co-op-type places for kids to WANT to attend and we need kids to have that passion and interest that is so methodically squashed out of them by the time they get to 3rd or 4th grade and start saying, "I hate school" or "I hate math..." Standardized tests and schooling, especially, definitely DO cause/want kids to be compliant "factory" workers, doing what they are told and NOT asking any questions (questions that are acceptable to the teacher is fine but when they start thinking outside the box and asking other questions, they get in trouble for being "disruptive"- that happened with each of my kids). I now homeschool my youngest. :-)

  8. *questions that ARE acceptable :-)

  9. Here is the basic problem: the system of factory schooling in our country has not changed since its' inception, but our expectations for it have. Seth is right on many things in that interview, but he is wrong that schools have failed. They have not. They continue to successfully do exactly what they were designed to do, and now they do it with the unwitting support of teachers and administrators who maybe didn't sign on to churn out obedient workers, but who do it anyway because that's the way the system works. Can a few parents push the schools enough to change them from within? I have my doubts. Most school reformers - those who want REAL change - come to the conclusion that dropping out is the only real path available to families right now. If enough families do that - if enough homeschool or unschool - the system might falter or be forced to change. Unschooling families we know come from all walks of life, income levels and configurations. With a little creativity and effort, we can help anyone find a path of learning for their children outside of school altogether. Leave the coercion and tests behind. Focus on passion and creativity. That's the best, the only answer; especially for those who can't afford the pricey alt ed schools.

  10. While I agree with the notion that education needs reform, and reform not based on the standardized testing madness that we are trying to survive, I think Seth is very wrong about his assertions of past American Education.

    His theory that the schooling around Wilson and Carnegie's era was nothing more than a way to produce factory workers and consumers is fanciful in the least and mythical at best. It creates a wonderful image doesn't it? The evil monocled businessman sitting at this mahogany desk wringing his hands as he watches kids trudge to school to become his factory workers some day. Right out of the "Series of Unfortunate Events"?

    The truth of the matter is that the era of education he is talking about would have been the same as my fathers. My father would often tell me tales of his schooling days and how all public school children needed to learn Latin. He credits Latin with his ability to go on to College (Cornell University) and Jefferson Medical College as well as be a successful surgeon. So ask yourself a simple question, if those schools were designed to produce factory workers, why would they teach Latin? (Insert sound of crickets chirping here)

    That generation of school learners would turn out to be the "Greatest Generation". The generation, that when wakened, defeated the Nazi and Fascist regimes through intelligence, problem solving, grit, and fortitude. Later they would form the core of scientists that would advance medicine and send a man to the moon. It would also produce entrepreneurs and wealth that the current generation will not be able to compete with.

    So THOSE are the schools and the generation of Americans that Seth spits on with his mythical rantings about American Schools of the past producing Factory Workers and Consumers.

    It does us no good to chase mythical beasts and Monopoly figure caricatures if we are to tackle the educational issues with today.

    The generation of teachers that produced "The Greatest Generation" did pretty well. What have we done that comes close?

  11. Hardly a myth about Woodrow Wilson. Here's a quote "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." And for those who wish to read the full context, here's the whole speech.
    Sure, the schooling system devised by the Prussians, developed by the British and the Americans to fuel the industrial revolution, has made us what we are today - rightly or wrongly. And we are grateful for how far we have come. But the system as it stands now is not fit-for-purpose for educating the citizens of tomorrow. It is not a re-formation of education that is needed. Reform means spending more and more money tinkering with a system in decline - and around the world we have been doing this for many many years. What is needed is a trans-formation of the system. Rebuild it, from the ground up, to suit the needs of modern society.

    1. Seth clearly said that schools were there for two purposes to create factory workers and people to buy stuff. Period. Wilson's quote that you cite does not give support to Seth's premise. It clearly indicates he was for a two track system, the intellectual track and the manual labor track. Seth was branding the entire educational system with his comments.

      I think we are all in agreement that we are working from a stale template of education, that has not adapted to our cultural and technological changes, and has created outdated schools for today's learner. My larger point was that it does us no good to demonize a generation of hardworking, dedicated, caring and thoughtful educators that are committed to the same ends as we are today. Creating mythical bogeymen and painting educators as conspirators in a fiendish plot does us no good.

      Good try Mark, but my opinion is unchanged.

    2. You're wrong. creating mythical bogeyman and painting educators as conspirators in a fiendish plot gets people to read The Innovative Educator.

      Sell, sell, sell.

    3. Funny Anonymous. You don't get rich sell, sell, selling ideas for free.

    4. @Spiff. The video clip is about standardised testing. Can I suggest you read Seth Godin's book for the full context to read what he has to say about compliance and consumerism. It is free and can be found here : http://www.squidoo.com/stop-stealing-dreams

      I don't believe Seth - or by association Lisa or myself - are 'demonising a generation of hardworking, dedicated caring and thoughtful educators.' There is no suggestion that educators today should be considered complicit in the creation and perpetuation of the current education system conceived more than a century ago.

      Try going to google images and searching for 'surgery in the 19th century' and 'surgery in the 21st century'. You will get very different images. No-one in the 21st century would submit themselves to 19th century surgery techniques. This is an extreme example to show the point but try the same search for all kinds of everyday things - like banking for example - and see how both systems and expectations have changed. Try the same search for 'schooling 19th century' and 'schooling 21st century' and you'll find many images that are similar (and some of course that aren't). But the stereotypical image of children sat quietly in rows facing the teacher as 'font of all knowledge' remains - rightly or wrongly. Are we happy with this? Can we improve on the education this generation is getting?

      The question being asked by Seth I think and that perhaps we should all be asking is: 'What changes do we need to make to the teaching and assessment systems of education to improve students' chances of succeeding in today's world?' I believe that we need to question the relevance of standardised tests, the relevance of the teaching of facts rather than skills and the relevance of teaching to the common denominator. This is not a criticism of teachers and teaching, but a call to society not to be complacent.

      Woodrow Wilson was in favour of a two tier system. I am not. Woodrow Wilson was in favour of the majority 'foregoing' a liberal education. I am not.

      The world we live in has become, in my opinion, too reliant on standardised test results. We have become competent at setting tests, competent at taking tests and competent at hiring employees based on test results. And then businesses complain that they don't get creative employees this way. Not surprising since creativity is not the objective of the test!

      But those that are competent tend to resist change. We like to be competent. Change threatens to make us less competent - and so we resist. We all seem to agree that our education system has not adapted quickly enough for today's learners. What are we doing about transforming education for future generations? The suggestion is we start by getting rid of standardised tests.

    5. "I don't believe Seth - or by association Lisa or myself - are 'demonising a generation of hardworking, dedicated caring and thoughtful educators.' There is no suggestion that educators today should be considered complicit in the creation and perpetuation of the current education system conceived more than a century ago"

      But she is and she has when it's convenient. There's a lot of flip-flopping on this blog about various issues, especially when it will get a lot of readers.

  12. Whether you buy into the concept of the industrial conditioning of public schools or not (I do), the fact of the matter is that the world has radically changed in the last century, and public education has done comparatively little to respond. In new contexts, new forms are necessary. This is not the time to get sentimental, but pro-active.

    Start small.