Trouble with Testing

By W. James Popham

Standards-based assessment really sounds quite wonderful. Yet, in most educational settings, it is a flat-out fraud.

In my Webster's Dictionary, a fraud is defined as "something that is not what it pretends." Any sort of beneath-the-surface look at today's standards-based assessment will soon reveal that this alluringly labeled breed of testing is simply loaded with artifice.

I suppose it all started a decade or so ago when American educators began bastardizing the term standard. A "content standard," it was argued, should describe the skills and knowledge that educators want their students to learn. Although Webster's offers fully 27 definitions of "standard," not one of those definitions remotely approximates a description of the skills and knowledge that students should learn.

Content standards, as used -- misused? -- these days, simply refer to what used to be called "curriculum goals" or "instructional objectives." I'm not sure precisely when educators began to describe their curricular aspirations as content standards, but I have a hunch about why they did so.Link to cover story 2, High Stakes High Risk

"Standards," in the traditional way that this noun has been used, and especially if preceded by the adjective "high," becomes an educational entity that simply reeks of goodness. Who in their right mind could ever be opposed to "high standards?" So, if the nation's educators claimed that they were setting out to promote students' mastery of high standards, who would dare criticize such a laudable aspiration? "High standards" is a phrase that by definition alone elicits applause. 

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