Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Theory of Standardized Testing: Let's All Make Plastic Chairs?


Here, in my opinion, is how the theory of standardized testing works:

1. Some people make bad furniture.

2. Some people make great furniture.

3. Therefore, people who have never made any furniture at all must be put in charge of designing new standards of cabinet-making.

Result: Great furniture makers are required to focus their efforts on making more and more plastic chairs.

I AM A RETIRED TEACHER. So, I no longer need to worry about the state of American education.

Still, I do.

It is my belief that reformers, mostly with good intentions, but always with little true understanding of what needs to be done to improve the nation’s schools are taking more and more control.

It is my belief that there are bad teachers—and we should do more to get rid of them.

It is my belief that most of America’s teachers are good; and I believe all good teachers are working extremely hard. (You can’t be good in this profession unless you sweat blood.)

It is my firm belief that standardized testing has done great harm to the process of true learning.

IF I AM RIGHT, IF YOU AGREE, what do we do?



(Double click on picture below and you can save it as a picture.)


  1. Lissa Graham commented on Bad Ass Teachers' Facebook page: "John Viall, yes...but they want wobbly, three-legged plastic chairs!"

    I said that would be "stools." But I love Lissa's analogy.

    She works in the Boston Public Schools.

  2. Kathy Gates, commented, too. She works for the Hernando County Schools: "and we can sell them at WalMart because that is the only place they are qualified to go."

  3. Tina Thompson, who works at Penn State, adds a note of frustration, which I like: "except that none of this was presented with the superficial courtesy of 'Let's'"!

  4. Tina then added this, which is exactly what I'm afraid ot

    "John, thank you: I am honored. I am a former elementary and middle school art teacher, and have been working in Big Ten universities in teacher education for many years. I am deeply concerned about all that is happening to our schools, since it is (as you indicate so well) imposed on them from the outside by people who know not what they do! It is incredibly frustrating that everything we know about education, and everything we teach about it, has been ignored. The business model does not fit business well: how could it possibly work in education?"

  5. Melissa Platero added this: "The problem with the plastic chairs is that they are not made in America and they break easily. Plus, they probably have lead in them. Yep, sounds just like standardized testing."

  6. At the beginning of the school year I call every parent to introduce myself. As you can imagine, the telephone calls keep me at school long after the kids have gone home. Last week, as I was making calls, someone asked if I had a parent contact form. I don’t. I use a notebook. The person told me the district people are going to require a standardized parent contact form.

    “Will I still be allowed to use my notebook?”


    Left unspoken was the disheartening idea that I could write down whatever I wanted wherever I wanted after I entered the data on a county-required standardized form.

    Speaking of chairs, I purchased my own chair for my classroom. I have a standard issue teacher chair, but I choose to sit in my own chair. Like me, it is big and cushy and there’s nothing else like it. I hope they won’t standardize my chair the way they are trying to standardize me.

    1. Mike, I feel your pain; I used to give parents and students my home phone number and made hundreds of calls each year.

      The principal's idea to "improve" communication? We were all supposed to start keeping phone logs. I loved teaching, too; hope they don't ruin it for you younger folks.