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Test, Data,Test, Data. What Happened to Actually Learning?

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Successful educational reform and widespread effective teacher performance evaluations have remained an unattainable desire attempted by those with good intentions, brilliant minds and large wallets. Yet with countless hypothesizes, theories, methods and strategies all designed to improve our public education system, reforms have failed to increase standardized test scores and improve teacher performance. Perhaps the problem is not teacher performance but rather our obsession with basing academic performance on countless standardized test results.

First implemented during WWI as an army mental test developed to assign U.S. servicemen to appropriate jobs, standardized testing quickly inflated to over 100 academic achievement measures in both elementary and secondary schools by 1918 (Alcocer, n.d.). Federally implemented educational reforms spanning from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) through the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to today’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) have all prioritized student testing as a measure for school performance and a mandatory condition for federal funding. Few would argue against the collection of data as a method of achieving state transparency and educational over-site, but the American education system has more data than any other country in the world and the weight placed on that data has overshadowed true performance in the classroom.

As a healthcare provider, I struggle with regulations, restrictions and time-consuming requirements set by Medicare and other insurance companies. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing a patient would benefit from a treatment plan that is safe and effective but is denied by insurance solely because a diagnosis code is not linked to the desired procedure. I question at times why I bothered getting my degree if a computer was going to dictate patient care. Teachers seem to struggle from similar feelings of frustration and demoralization. Patients are the reason I practice medicine just as students are the reason teachers go into education. Over the decades, bureaucracy has handcuffed teachers and weakened their ability to connect with students. Time spent both preparing and taking exams has obstructed teacher creativity, inhibited critical thinking and limited productive discussions in the classroom. Reducing education to student test scores based on a multiple-choice exam that gathers only basic knowledge confines the purpose of education and devalues both the teacher and school principle (Ravitch, 2012). Test scores must be approached as an indicator not a goal and school districts must stop elevating test scores above human judgement (Ravitch, 2012).

Alcocer, P. (n.d.). History of Standardized Testing in the United States. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from

Ravitch, D. (2016). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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