Education High School Reform

Tests, Tests, Tests

“Some recent philosophers seem to have given their moral approval to these deplorable verdicts that affirm that the intelligence of an individual is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be augmented. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism; we will try to demonstrate that it is founded on nothing.” – Alfred Binet

Tests, Tests, Tests

(This is part 4 of a 5 part series on why our school system is horribly broken)

We have an entire elementary and secondary education system designed to get students into college.  To get into college you need to do well on the SAT or ACT.  This philosophy of testing then trickles back through the entire education system (Common Core testing, etc.).

Because of these priorities, standardized testing is at the very core of modern American education.

Alfred Binet invented the first standardized test for schools (and the first IQ test) for the French government in the early 1900s.  Even when making the tests Binet saw and clearly stated the limitations of his test:

 “Our purpose is to be able to measure the intellectual capacity of a child who is brought to us in order to know whether he is normal or retarded. … We do not attempt to establish or prepare a prognosis and we leave unanswered the question of whether this retardation is curable, or even improvable. We shall limit ourselves to ascertaining the truth in regard to his present mental state. ” – Alfred Binet

To save you reading time I have given a quick summary below of a bunch of studies on standardized tests.  I also recommend you watch the eye-opening video at the bottom of this post from the always entertaining John Oliver.  The video takes a look at the emotional toll these tests take on students, the low quality of many of these tests, and several more of the darker aspects of standardized testing.

Quick Standardized Test Summary:

Picture of a Standardized Test
Picture Via: Flicker – Timlewisnm

Research shows that standardized tests are good at measuring how good you are at that standardized test (or maybe how rich your parents are).  They are not good predictors of college or career success.  And they do not provide an accurate picture of a student’s full talents or potential.  Sounds like a great basis for an educational ranking system right?

“The scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of the intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured.” – Alfred Binet

It is insane on an epic level that we continue to put so much importance on these standardized tests after 100 years and study after study showing that Alfred Binet was correct about the limitation of these tests.

If we have scientifically proven that standardized tests are very limited why do we put so much weight on them?  Why do we put so much pressure on kids to do well on these tests?

I believe standardized testing is so pervasive primarily because it gives decision makers a number that makes tough decisions simple.  It is much easier to use a number from a test than it is to admit the truth:  Each kid is unique and their potential cannot be measured on a standardized test.

The messy real world requires tough judgement calls and taking the time to get to know students to make those tough decisions.

“Comprehension, inventiveness, direction, and criticism: intelligence is contained in these four words.” – Alfred Binet

To Summarize: 

We are in essence telling millions of kids they are “stupid” because we are too lazy to treat them as unique people with unique talents.

By implication we are also telling kids that only one kind of intelligence matters (being good at tests).  We know from our jobs that there are skills that are much more important than being good at tests.  Maybe we should put more emphasis on the skills that really matter in the workplace and in the students’ personal lives.

This thought leads me to wonder … Are our schools actually hurting our chances of being ready for the challenges of the 21st century?


Here is the John Oliver video referenced earlier. (Warning: there is strong language in the video):

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Recommended Further Reading:   Joel Patterson – Obliterating Our Humanity: The True Costs of Public Schools (Medium Post)

A few excerpts from the above article:

“…If I had to choose, now my super power would be this: I would choose the ability to magically replace all of the countless hours that have been wasted in school memorizing trivial inconsequential, useless facts…”

“In addition to coming out of public schools lacking many valuable skills, [many] people come out of public schools severly traumatized, with their curiosity, spontaneity, and creativity all but destroyed.”

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