As I read Dana Goldstein’s article about the advance of standardized testing into subjects like the arts and physical education, I began to get a queasy feeling. “This isn’t right,” I mumbled to myself. I thought of my grandchildren taking standardized tests in music and gym, and I shook my head. This isn’t right.
Race to the Top has promoted this movement to test every subject. Arne Duncan brandished $5 billion to encourage states and districts to judge teachers by the rise or fall of their students’ scores. The fact that there is no evidence for this method of judging teachers doesn’t matter. Bad ideas backed by big money have a way of catching on, no matter how mindless they are.
South Carolina has developed online tests for the arts, multiple-choice, of course. Florida is building tests of music and other pervormance arts that can be scored by machine, that is, by artificial intelligence. The vendors of these tests lobby to make them permanent, regardless of their quality.
Are they doing this at Sidwell Friends or the University of Chicago Lab School or Dalton or Exeter or Deerfield Academy? Of course not.
Is this what they do in Finland? Of course not.
What is the reason for testing the arts and physical education? It’s not to help students take joy in singing or playing a musical instrument or running fast or shooting baskets.
No, the purpose of all these tests is to collect data to evaluate the teachers! Wasting the students’ time with stupid questions and pointless activities and trivial measurements is just a way of gathering information so teachers of the arts and physical education can get a value-added score, just like teachers of reading and math.
Sometimes Americans do really foolish things. Sometimes they do these things because it is so easy to follow the crowd. Sometimes it’s because no one is thinking clearly. Sometimes they get caught up in nutty fads because someone is making a profit and buying legislators. Usually it’s because the people who launched these bad ideas have no moorings. They have lost touch with their own values. They do to other people’s children what they would never do to their own. They don’t listen to teachers. They don’t listen to parents.
History is not kind to people who do foolish, nay harmful, things and fail to exercise independent judgment. That’s why it’s best to say “no” when your conscience tells you to.