Georg Lind is an educational researcher and professor of psychology in a German university who has studied the moral implications of standardized testing. His bio is at the end of this post. He sent me the following short essay on the negative consequences of standardized testing:

Leviathan: The Anti-Democratic Effect of High-Stakes Tests.

We ought to think about high stakes tests in wider contexts than we usually do, namely in the context of human functioning and in the context of human rights and democracy:

(a) All tests which are based on classical test theory (CTT) and its off-springs (e.g., item-response-theory, Rasch-scaling) are essentially statistical artifacts. Their hidden psychology is at odds with our knowledge of psychological processes underlying human behavior. These tests are built on a false postulate which says: each and every human response to a test is determined only by one disposition, namely the competence or personality under consideration, except for some degree of random measurement error which can be easily minimized by repeating measurements.

This core postulate is totally wrong: A single response is usually determined but by several dispositions at the same time, not just by one. Hence a single response is ambiguous and does not allow to make any inference on a particular disposition. If data falsify this believe they are misclassified as “unreliability.” Besides, repeated measurement is virtually not possible with human subjects. Repeated questions have to be varied, and the more varied tasks are used to reduce “unreliability,” the less valid a test becomes.

Better methodologies exist, especially for the measurement and improvement of curricula and teaching methods (see my reading suggestion below). We can single out the disposition(s) determining a person’s responses only with experimentally designed tests that let us observe pattern of responses to carefully arranged pattern of tasks. Of course, such tests require much expertise and money, probably more than the private test industry is able to provide.

(b) High-stakes testing violates human rights and undermines democracy. The frequent evaluation – year by year, month by month, day by day, and sometimes even hour by hour – of students violates their basic rights and, indirectly, also of the rights of their teachers and parents. This inhumane practice has nothing to do with well reasoned and well designed assessments required before taking over a responsible position in our society. There should be more such assessments. Why don’t we examine future parents whether they are prepared well enough to raise children? This would spare us a lot of juvenile delinquency and broken up families. Or assess future politicians’ ability to run a town, a state, or a country? You can imagine what this would spare us.

Frequent high-stakes testing is also a threat to democracy. It restricts students’ thinking and reflection. It leaves too little opportunity for the development of moral competence. It produces “subjects” not citizens of a democracy. As many decades of research into the development of moral competence shows, simply through the extreme proportion of time absorbed by the preparation for evaluations and other activities required by authorities, students are prevented from developing the ability to solve problems and conflicts through thinking and discussion instead of through violence, deceit and power. They will later, as adults, depend, as Thomas Hobbes has pointed out, on a “strong state” and on dictators to keep violence, deception and power within bounds. Morally competent citizens don’t need a “Leviathan.”

Reading suggestion: “How to Teach Morality. Promoting Deliberation and Discussion. Reducing Violence and Deceit” by Georg Lind (Logos publisher, Berlin, 2016)


Dr. Georg Lind
Schottenstr. 65
78462 Konstanz, Germany

Prof. emeritus of the University of Konstanz, Department of Psychology
Doctorates in social sciences and in philosophy; master degree in psychology.
Long-time educational researcher and test developer.
Main area of research and teaching: Moral-democratic competence development and education.
Visiting professor at the University of Illinois/Chicago, Monterrey/Mexico, and Berlin/Germany.
Guest lectures and workshop-seminars in several countries, e.g., Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Switzerland.
Married and three children (two adopted in Chicago)
Born in 1947.