Saturday, May 10, 2014

Standardized Testing: So Far, We Might as Well Dump the Money in the Ocean

Teachers, imagine you had $1.7 billion to spend this year to buy good books and hand them out to students. Do you think average reading scores might rise because you put millions of books in eager young hands?

Of course you do. You’re teachers. You have faith in children.

Unfortunately, you don’t have that money because states are busy paying for all the standardized tests.

Do you think profits for testing companies are rising? And do you believe campaign contributions to politicians (by testing companies) are increasing? Yes. Yes, you do.

How much has Pearson Education, the leader in standardized testing spent on lobbying in recent years?

Well, with all this lobbying and testing how are students doing now? According to one study, students spend between 60 and 110 hours each year in grades where standardized tests are given—preparing for those tests. As a result, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports reading scores for America’s seniors are soaring!

No, no, I’m just messing with you.

We’ve wasted a decade and we’ve been marching in place, if not backward. NAEP scores for seniors, since 1992:

How about scores in mathematics for seniors? This time there’s joy in Mudville! Now we’re talking progress!!!!

I’m being sarcastic. Scores are up three points since 2005, with no gain since 2009:

Even worse, huge racial gaps remain. The school reformers promised one virtue of No Child Left Behind would be closure of this racial gap. Now they have nothing to show for all their talk and all their meddling.

Curtailing teacher tenure? Didn’t help. More charter schools? No. Opening up new paths to teacher certification? Nope. More Teach for America geniuses in the classroom? Nope, you dopes. That didn’t help. How about more paperwork for teachers to fill out to prove they’re actually teaching? Oh, hell, nope.

None of this helped.

The white-black gap in math remained unchanged:


In reading it got worse:

Oddly enough, Asian-American/Pacific Islander kids continued to do better. Sitting in the same classes, listening to the same teachers, drinking from the same water fountains, they continued to score higher than their lighter and darker-skinned peers.

Not three points higher either.

Way higher.

(If you didn’t know better you might think factors beyond the control of teachers had a potent impact on learning. You know: factors like poverty concentrated among certain ethnic groups. Or cultural attitudes.)

Only twelve states chose to release their data. Nevertheless, we see that some states do better than others when educating children.

I suppose this means Massachusetts teachers are way better than those poor dolts teaching in West Virginia. (Sarcasm intended.) Therefore, I am calling on my favorite school reformers, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Wendy Kopp, to send a convoy of Teach for America stars to the Mountain State to save all the children! In both math and reading, West Virginia students finished last:

Of course, when all is said and done, simplistic “comparisons” mask a host of complex social issues. But we do know this. We’ve spent twenty billion dollars or so on standardized testing since 2002—and the end result when kids graduate is a giant pile of nothing. 

We might as well take next year’s $1.7 billion out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and dump it. I can think of a few school reformers I'd like to dump in the ocean, too.



If you agree with my premise you might also like my book: Two Legs Suffice: Lessons Learned by Teaching. It is based on my 33 years in a classroom; and makes the best case I can against standardized testing as a measure of true learning.

Now available on Amazon.


  1. The expenditure of this kind of money is a travesty. 34,000 New York children refused to take the ELA state tests. Many more refused the math. Watch and spread the video. Parents have a right to refuse. How to end the waste? Refuse to participate!

  2. Mark Napier, one of my former students, responded via Facebook:

    I saw that post to Dump Duncan. What are you thinking? Sea levels are already rising and you want to dump that much money in the ocean? That's at least another 12" of sea level rise you are advocating. You'd better start consulting your science teacher colleagues before posting any more ideas.

    Later, he added:

    Instead, let's take all that money (in pennies -- as useless as Arnie's ides -- and use them to make dikes. We can hold the coins together with gum that we have Arnie scrape off the bottom of school desks. That also helps Arnie by giving him some classroom experience.

    (I don't think he takes Arne Duncan seriously, either.)

  3. Gayle Greene replied to this post on Facebook: Actually, the money have done less harm, dumped in the ocean.

    I wish I'd thought of that line, myself.