An earlier post considered whether standardized tests were necessary or useful in the arts. Several arts teachers responded to say that they are not only NOT necessary and NOT useful, but they are actually harmful. They miss the point of arts education and they distort instruction. I agree.

This comment makes the case even stronger. Students who are incessantly tested suffer a loss of their capacity for original thinking. Of course, students need knowledge; no one doubts that. But the ability to check off the right bubble should not be confused with knowledge.

And the imposition of test-driven accountability may destroy the very qualities of mind and spirit that our society–and the world–needs most: creativity, originality, ingenuity, inspiration, inquisitiveness.

As a composer and professor of music teaching at the university level in New York City, I teach graduate students from all over the world drawn to our city for its unsurpassed artistic vitality. I have noticed that very talented, intelligent and well-educated students coming to my classes from countries with test-driven education systems often struggle with musical analysis, for one very simple reason: What I value most highly in my students’ analytical work is the capacity to have an original insight into a piece and to develop it convincingly. In other words, the student’s task is not to master what I think, but to teach me something I didn’t know before.This is a skill that can be taught – by nurturing and not stifling the natural creativity of children from an early age right through graduate school. It is also a skill that can be unlearned – by being subjected to an educational system that devalues originality and glorifies the mastery of received wisdom.Creativity without knowledge is as worthless as rote learning. What’s needed is a balance. Our national drive towards testing-based curricula in all subjects is taking education in exactly the wrong direction, towards conformity and away from innovation. I leave it to students of mass delusion to explain why we are doing this in the name of enhancing the competitiveness of our nation’s children in job markets of the future that we believe will demand high levels of flexibility and creative thinking. The major effect of the ever-increasing tendency to gear all learning towards standardized tests will be to undermine our children’s mastery of critical and creative thinking and diminish their prospects for employment — and the enjoyment of life.