Do standardized tests lead to a more vibrant society?

Here is one of my questions, which some people might consider heretical to even ask.  Is there any correlation between high scores on standardized tests and thriving societies?

Here’s the reason I ask.  In 1983, the Department of Education issued a report titled A Nation at Risk.  The report began with these two sentences: 

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.

It’s 24 years later.  First graders in 1983 are now 30 years old and many have first graders of their own.  Our progress on standardized test scores has been nominal at best.  You would think that America would have had to close up shop if we’ve gone so long with so little progress on standardized tests.

Yet, our standard of living, by almost any conceivable measure, is better than it was in 1983.  Our economy has run circles around Europe and Japan.  Unemployment in some European countries has been double the U.S.’s for at leat a decade.  Japan’s economy has been in the doldrums beginning in the early 1990s and through the first part of this decade.

The United States is recognized as the world leader in creativity and innovation – the engines that drive the new economy.

Asian students continue to beat the pants off American students on standardized tests.  Yet, Asian leaders are trying to figure out how to instill a sense of creativity into students.  They know that’s where the future of commerce lies.  Consider this, from Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind.

Japan, which rose from the ashes of World War II thanks to its intense emphasis on L-Directed (analytic) Thinking, is now reconsidering the source of its national strength.  Although Japanese students lead the world in math and science scores, many in Japan suspect that the nation’s unrelenting focus on schoolbook academics might be an outdated approach.  So the country is remaking it vaunted education system to foster greater creativity, artistry, and play.

I believe in high expectations and high standards for students.  I believe that many of our students need to be more fully engaged, inspired and challenged.  I believe that many of our schools are falling short of their potential.  I think it is more than reasonable to expect accountability from teachers and schools.  And, I’ve had personal experience with a school that has been less than accountable.

I heed the warnings of businessmen and scholars with far more international experience than my own when they say we need to pay attention to what is happening in Asia and India.

My question is simply this:  How do standardized tests, as they are used now, serve our purposes?  Will all this standardized testing help shape the society for which we aspire?

What do you think?

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3 Responses to “Do standardized tests lead to a more vibrant society?”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    This is a familiar refrain from people who support the government public school monopoly in the face of overwhelming evidence of its incompetence. In some ways, we are better off than in 1983; in other ways, we are much worse off. The dollar has tanked against most other foreign currencies; our national debt has skyrocketed, and a lot of good jobs have left the country.
    Standardized tests are fundamentally good things, as they allow people to make comparisons.
    The pathetic progress on standardized test scores is simply redundant proof that the public schools are ineffective, and that’s why the establishment hates them so.
    Blaming standardized testing for lousy schools would be like blaming my bathroom scale for the fact that I am overweight.

  2. John Creighton Says:

    The New Commission for the American Workforce recently issued a report titled, Tough Choices and Tough Times. Their report suggests that many of the standards we use are outdated; they do not reflect skills needed for the new economy.
    How might we need to update our standards?

  3. John Creighton Says:

    The New Commission for the American Workforce recently issued a report titled, Tough Choices and Tough Times. Their report suggests that many of the standards we use are outdated; they do not reflect skills needed for the new economy.
    How might we need to update our standards?

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