Standardized Testing, Corporate Influence, and Relative Sanity

I’m a veteran test taker. This doesn’t make me special. Most adults who have pursued some kind of professional licensure share my veteran status. Actually, most adults who have attended any kind of school are veterans like me. I don’t know how standardized tests have impacted the lives of others. I do know that I’ve survived the tests I’ve taken with little scarring. Corporate interests in education have been apparent all along, but they haven’t claimed me as a casualty.

My test taking career began sometime early in elementary school. Each year, I took some kind of standardized test in addition to whatever tests and quizzes my teachers threw at me. I remember taking commercial (corporation-made) tests like the Iowa and the TerraNova enough times to recognize the similar phrasing of questions from year to year. In high school, I took fewer standardized tests. However, the ones I had to take became more complicated. I was scheduled to take the PSSA, but I blew it off (see my post about this). I couldn’t blow off the SAT, which I took without having taken the PSAT or having done one minute of preparation (and I did just fine).

It didn’t stop when I graduated. To get a teaching job after college, I had to take several of the Praxis examinations developed by ETS. To get into graduate school, I had to take the GRE. Several years later, I had to take another Praxis test to get an English certification. I wasn’t delighted to take these tests, primarily because I had to pay for the privilege of taking them. What I didn’t do was throw a fit over each one. They were steps on the way to something else. I took each test and moved on with my life. I didn’t mourn the time I lost taking them. I didn’t need counseling afterwards.

I might be an unusual case. Over the years, I’ve come to think standardized tests are almost fun. I took the psychology GRE just to see how well I’d do. I took a practice version of the MAT for pure amusement. I did the same with the LSAT. Whenever I’ve administered the PSSA or similar assessments to students, I’ve tried a few sections on my own just to get a sense of each test. Metrics interest me. I’ve found the healthy approach to coping with tests is to regard them as games. Perhaps some people can’t do this and I shouldn’t compare my experience with theirs.

Reading about people having aneurysms over standardized testing doesn’t surprise me. I see how such testing appears to be the worst plague to have ever befallen schools. Still, I’m not convinced they’re the death of education, nor am I convinced they’re destroying the dreams of children. Assessments can help educational progress when they’re designed and implemented wisely. I’ll agree that much of what currently is happening with testing in schools isn’t productive and is being done for questionable, possibly nefarious reasons. I don’t completely agree that these tests are crippling students, though. I’d venture to say other elements of contemporary American living are doing more harm than tests (staring at glowing screens all day and being under constant supervision come to mind). Dare I suggest kids and parents are becoming more sensitive as testing is becoming more ubiquitous. Perhaps I’m being callous or showing my age, but I happen to think if test taking is proving to be too much for kids, adult life is going to shred them.

I’ve lived through a few decades of testing. Depending on what I decide to do with myself in the coming years, I might have more tests to take. I don’t really want to give more money to educational conglomerates, but I’ll do it if I have to and I’ll be okay. In spirit, I support the backlash against the perceived corporate hijacking of education. What grounds me is the realization that this hijacking isn’t new. Corporate interests in education have existed for as long as schools have been purchasing commercial textbooks. The infrastructure of schools—from busses to buildings—is designed and sold by corporations. The technology used in classrooms isn’t designed by family-owned businesses. How many teachers buy classroom supplies at Wal-Mart or Office Max? Who makes those supplies?

Outside of schools, everything in our lives is manufactured and distributed by corporations. Our precious phones and the electricity that powers them, the Starbucks lattes rotting inside us, and the mortgages over which we fret are all brought to us by corporations. Suddenly, everyone seems to have realized corporate interests reach into schools and now everyone is bothered by it. I get that these interests affect more than the tests students take, just as I get that the reach of corporate-sponsored education reform has extended in recent years. I don’t necessarily like it, but I guess it doesn’t scare me as much as it does some people. Maybe I’m naïve.

Ideally, I’d like to escape much of this artificiality that ensnares us all. At the same time, I think standardized tests might be a bit less toxic than some of the other corporate intrusions in our lives. True, the current push to rely on tests seems to have motivations that don’t have to do with helping children develop as learners. I’m all for a more sensible approach to assessment. I still have to scratch my head somewhat at those who are frothing in anger over the damage these tests are doing. The tests aren’t good, but they aren’t exactly cyanide. The snack food in many kitchens across America might be more harmful. I’m not suggesting testing should continue unchecked, but the outrage feels overdone to a standardized testing veteran like me.

Standardized Testing, Corporate Influence, and Relative Sanity

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