Feb. 21, 2001
Tests, standards and accountability are being advocated as the
solution to the problems of public school education. Those are such
good words; why can't they do the job?
The testing system has been corrupted. Under the 1997 revision of
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the school must
give "appropriate accommodations" on every test to all "children with
Accommodation means that the child can be given assistance by
someone who can read the test questions to him, explain to him what was
read, and even write the answers for him. An 8th grade reading test is
ridiculous if the student can't read it himself.
In the settlement of a lawsuit this month, Oregon pledged to
"broaden the current list of allowable accommodations" and allow
learning disabled students to use spell-check software on their writing
tests. Educators predict that this settlement will become a blueprint
for other states to follow.
Allowing the schools or the states to assist learning disabled
students, or even exclude them entirely, provides an open door to
finagling the test results, and the states have figured out how to work
this racket. Since schools receive additional federal money for every
child labeled learning disabled, there is a financial incentive to
increase the numbers.
The high stakes involved in test results virtually mandate that
teachers will be required to "teach to the test." Teaching to the test
means teaching only the small percentage of material that will actually
be covered on the test.
Traditional teaching, on the other hand, involves presenting a
considerable quantity of information to the students and then testing
their knowledge by asking questions on items randomly selected from the
total material. When test-taking takes priority over learning, this
dumbs down education because a narrower body of knowledge is taught.
Teaching to the test contains built-in incentives to fraud since
teachers' salaries, bonuses and jobs, the school's funding and even its
existence, and the student's chance to go to college or get a job, are
already being tied to performance on these "high-stakes tests." Some
teachers have already been put through workshops conducted by state
bureaucrats to train them in which items to focus on so their students
will perform well.
Tests are now called assessments, which is a semantic clue to the
large element of subjectivity that has invaded the questions and the
scoring. The most commonly understood meaning of the word assessment
is the tax-collector's assessment of our property, and we all know how
subjective that can be.
Some of the answers are not right or wrong, true or false, and are
scored by temporary workers who get rewarded for speed. More and more
tests are burdened with the liberal/feminist dogmas called Political
One Michigan test required students to write an argument for or
against sending women into military combat. That topic will inevitably
be scored on attitudes and values rather than on composition, grammar
One National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test
contains three questions that ascribe unworthy motives to the white
settlers who came to America, three questions that measure the
student's support of radical environmentalism, and a question
instructing students to write a letter to their U.S. Senators telling
them which government programs the student wants funded.
Nationally, tests are planned to be given only in reading and
math. This means that English, science and history will be given short
shrift or even omitted, since tests will be all that matters in
evaluating teachers and schools.
When it comes to the standards to which the assessments are tied,
have we so quickly forgotten the uproar about the federally funded
National History Standards of 1995 which omitted or downgraded some of
America's greatest achievers and used obscure and third-rate figures to
teach diversity revisionism? Those standards were so anti-American
they were denounced by the U.S. Senate in a vote of 99 to 1.
Have we so quickly forgotten the national math standards, which
were denounced by 200 prestigious mathematicians, including four Nobel
Laureates, because they failed to teach basic skills? Their criticisms
were published in a full-page ad in the November 18, 1999 Washington
Post, but that had no effect on the U.S. Department of Education's
determination to induce schools to adopt fuzzy math curricula.
Then there is the announced goal called accountability, a word
that cries out to be followed by a preposition and an object.
Accountability has no meaning unless one is accountable to someone or
It appears that the plan is to make the schools accountable to the
U.S. Departments of Education and Labor. But what parents want is
accountability to parents and local school boards, not to a federal or
The stated goal of the new proposals is to "narrow the achievement
gap." Let's remember that the gap can be closed by bringing top and
bottom together, not necessarily by raising the bottom to a higher
level of achievement.