Solving test scores problems

Student reading abilities are declining. Governments around the world find this decline unacceptable. To counteract this trend, the countries' educational bureaucracies have adopted a bad solution: standardized tests of student achievement. Anyone close to the varied challenges individual students has watched this "solution" take effect destructively. There have been cries for different tests, more diverse standards, more contextual variations in assessment and greater use of individual achievement goals. Most of these cries go unheeded.

As I explored in my last post, test scores are far from a mechanical process. The outcomes of testing procedures get impacted though a vast network of connections. For most students, there are more opposing interests to their improved scores than interests in favor. Applying a mechanical solution to an organic aggregation of interests will predictably backfire.

It seems to me that standardized testing refutes the organic nature of fragile learning ecologies, changing intrinsic motivations and faltering curiosity. They are only appropriate in contexts where there is no need to be self motivated, in school or eventually at work. In those in setting, standardized test scores are merely justifying the distribution of extrinsic rewards disproportionally to actual levels of contribution, growth, or influence. They reduce the vast array of mutual interests to the simple framework of "proven abilities". They make some people into winners at the expense of the rest. They acculturate diverse individuals to endure the abuses of hierarchies, conformity pressures and policy mandated conduct. It's no wonder the majority of the staunch advocates for standardized testing are denizens of governmental bureaucracies.

Most academic environments provide too much structure. They need to provide more open space for learning in order to solve test scores for pattern. When the learners spend more time exploring, migrating, circling back and deepening the adventures, much will change. Their curiosity and self motivation will fluctuate and disappear less often as they are free to follow their interests. They will rely on their self evaluation and the feedback from personal attempts. They will seek coaching from peers and mentors who can see better than themselves what they are doing inadvertently, assuming incorrectly, insisting upon regrettably and forsaking persistently. They will experience their interest in performance evaluation becoming very nuanced, contextualized and considerate of changing pursuits. They will constantly align the ways they evaluate their progress and accomplishments with the natural requirements of their latest adventure.


  1. I can't agree with you more. My daughter attends a school that is based on Project Based Learning. Not only do they receive grades on content areas, they also receive grades on cooperation (all of the projects are group, but individuals are graded for their skills within each group project), information literacy, communication skills (written or oral), self direction, technology literacy, and critical thinking. Students are given broad benchmarks that they must use to demonstrate these skills.

    Without these guidelines, students have difficulty learning. However, after about a month (in which they begin to actually look at the benchmarks) there is a much more conducive learning environment.

    What is interesting is the level of creativity and depth of understanding students take away. My daughter competed in an environthon with a number of schools in the region (22). Many of these schools had been preparing since September, but my daughter's school (who sent two groups) only worked for about 2 weeks during lunch time. They took first and third place.

    The problem now, however, is that many colleges have told these students that they won't accept their curriculum because of the lack of "standardized test" scores. Many of these same students have not done well on the SAT's and ACT's. The New Technology schools throughout the US have developed their own testing which measures critical thinking, but now the difficulty is to get colleges and universities to accept these measures.

    So what do you think would be an effective measure of student learning that could be used as they move from state to state?

  2. When colleges say they won't "accept their curriculum because of the lack of "standardized test" scores", I am reading something very different between the lines of their position. That's me practicing my critical thinking skills. I see most academics as afraid of broad based critical thinking skills sitting in their classrooms. They can handle narrow applications of critical thinking, like critiquing an author's viewpoint, a scientific claim or a theory to explain historical incidents. But a broad based skill set could critique the course design, the professor's teaching methods, the takeaway value of the content, the quality of preparation for later applications, etc. Most college courses fail to deliver lasting value and thus avoid that critical scrutiny.

    I'll respond to your question about "an effective measure of student learning" in a follow-up post. Thanks for the great example of how these problems play out in personal lives, and your question about broadly accepted measures.