Todd Farley wrote a terrific book about his 15 years inside the standardized testing industry. It is called “Making the Grades.” It is an exposé of serial, institutionalized malpractice.


Here he responds to an opinion piece that appeared in the Néw York Times defending standardized testing.


Farley writes:


Aholistic Education


“​In what may be the most ridiculous thing ever uttered about the benefits of standardized testing (and the competition is fierce), the author of a February op-ed in The New York Times wrote that a reason to continue with annual yearly testing in grades 3-8 was because those tests “allow for a much more nuanced look at student performance.” Of course the guy did work for an organization funded by the Gates Foundation (surprise!), but you still had to admire his chutzpah: He didn’t just say standardized testing allowed for a “nuanced” looked at student performance (ha!), the op-ed’s writer went all-in and argued that large-scale, mass-produced educational assessments written and scored by a completely-unregulated multi-billion dollar industry with a staggering history of errors allows a “much more nuanced” look at student performance than did, you know, a human teacher sitting in a class with human students.


“​As someone who spent fifteen years in the testing industry—working for the biggest players (Pearson, ETS, Riverside Publishing) on the biggest tests (NAEP, CAHSEE, FCAT, TAKS, WASL, etc.)—“nuanced” is decidedly not a word I would use to describe our work. In fact, at the end of my 2009 book I went another direction, describing testing as “less a precise tool to assess students’ exact abilities than just a lucrative means to make indefinite and indistinct generalizations about them.”


“​The myriad reasons I came to that conclusion are extensively explained in my book, but in a nutshell it came down to this: It didn’t seem to me that the testing industry saw its test-takers (read “children”) as whole human beings, simply a compilation of words on a page. Consider just one thing: If a student test-taker answers, say, ten open-ended questions about “Charlotte’s Web,” those ten student answers are scanned into a computer and sent in ten different directions—they are scored in no particular order, by as many as ten different temporary employees, often on different days or in different states. In other words, instead of one person reviewing all ten answers and thus perhaps gleaning some real knowledge about a student’s understanding of “Charlotte’s Web,” in the name of expediency and profit the testing industry chops up the student’s test booklet and feeds it into its assembly-line scoring process, “nuance” be damned.


“If a holistic education means caring about the whole child (including his or her physical, social, and emotional well-being as well as academic achievement), it seems to me the testing industry offers pretty much the opposite of that: a fixation only on numbers, and numbers that in my view both fail to understand individual children and fail to see any test-taker as an actual, living breathing human being. In fact, based on my experiences I’d say the best way to describe the work the testing industry does is not holistic education but “aholistic.”


“A-holistic education, you ask? Yeah, I think it was named for the a-holes who came up with the idea of judging America’s students, teachers, and schools via large-scale standardized tests.”