By Casey Liss
Standardized Testing

On Last Week Tonight this past Sunday, John Oliver covered standardized testing in America. Unsurprisingly, he completely eviscerated the practice.

I’ve discussed teaching before (here, here, and here), because it’s a subject that is dear to my heart. I saw my wife, Erin, work harder than almost anyone I know for less appreciation and compensation than almost anyone I know.

In the eight years Erin taught, I watched standardized testing encroach on more and more of her teaching time. The amount of tests seemed ever-increasing, and thus so did the amount of instruction time she had to give up for test-taking. That, in and of itself, is alarming. What’s worse is, over time, Erin was compelled to modify her curriculum to best fit the Virginia Standards of Learning test.

Rather than teaching her students what was important for them to know, Erin was forced to teach students what they had to know to pass their SOL tests.

That doesn’t sound much like education to me. At best, that sounds like studying.

A great quote from the video to illustrate how broken testing is (starting at 8:50):

A Florida school board member was concerned – and a little suspicious – when he learned only 39% of his state’s 10th graders had performed at or above grade level in reading:

I asked the district at that point to give me the closest thing they could, legally, to the [Florida standardized] reading and math test, and I took it. That test labeled me as a poor reader.

This is a man with two graduate degrees and a long teaching pedigree.

So much of the education system in America is fundamentally broken. Standardized testing, while a decent idea in principle, is a collossal failure in execution.

The sad thing is, fixing education in America is actually very simple: hire good teachers, and once you do, pay them a salary commensurate with the job that they do[1].

If only we had taxpayers willing to do so.

  1. UPDATED 5 May 2015 2:45 PM: Since posting, I’ve realized this reads more literal than I mean it to. I know there’s far more to fixing teaching than just paying teachers well, but I do stand by it being a great place to start.