Why We Need National Testing

Diane Ravitch, Education Week, Sept 26, 2007
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The title for this post is quite misleading. A good part of the discussion concerns the nature of testing, and in particular comparing test results against "the norm". As Ravitch points out, these results are routinely misinterpreted, as newspaper headlines scream that half of all students are testing below "the norm". Testing against the norm - doing pretty much anything against the norm (and here I address all those people who want to follow the 'middle path') - is in error, as the 'norm' can shift. "If everyone is grossly overweight, then the 'norm' is to be overweight." But it doesn't follow, and I don't agree, that there is some absolute standard against which people can be tested. The selection of such standard becomes a political process. And while Ravitch may talk about those standards as "shared culture" the fact is testing becomes in such an environment not an evaluation of achievement but rather a measurement of conformity. Not necessarily bad - if you don't mind your children being tested for conformance to a particular political agenda.
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