Which came first: the tester or the tyrant?

By Jonathan Lee

My school just took a test.And I do mean my school – not just the students.For an entire week, classes were halted.Preparation periods lost.Days turned upside-down.Academics shirked.Administrators de-throned.Teachers mechanized.Parents confused.Students frenzied.School out.Tyranny in.

Being my first experience on the ‘proctor’ side of things, I found myself torn and bewildered – but not at all shocked.Despite my dire need to tear up the exams on a daily basis and spend the week watching ‘Harry Potter’ with my kids (an experience far more educational than taking the Stanford-9), I decided that I needed to experience this first hand as participant-observer; taking it all in and in-stride. Everything that I had read about, everything that I had heard, everything that I had believed was true – and worse.All the usual suspects were there (stress, anxiety, nausea, yada, yada).But what I found out afterwards truly floored me.

On the last day of testing, I talked with my students – all 140 of them.I asked them two simple questions.First, why do you take these tests?And second, who makes you?The responses were almost unbelievable. Let me share some with you (actual words and language)…

Question 1: ‘Why do you take these tests?’

·For the school to see where you are in your brain I.Q.

·So they can know how we are doing in class.

·So the high schools can see where we are.

·To check how much we know from last year.

·To test our ability.

·To help us for the MCAS.

·To waste time.

·To test my brain to see if I have enough ability to answer really hard questions.

·To make us work harder.

·Because I have to.

·To see how smart we are.

·To see what our grade is.

·To see if your teacher from last year was smart, and did the right thing by passing or failing you.

·To torture us.

·Because they make us take them.

·We do not choose to take them – they make us.

·To show what we know to a bunch of school officials.

·The Stanford testing is technically another form of an I.Q. test.

·Because the school forces us to, and it shortens our learning periods.

·To see what we learned and, if we fail, we stay back and we won’t graduate.

·So the government knows where we are in our learning skill.

·To make us frustrated.

·I don’t know…maybe it is to see how smart you are.

·To see if we are smart or stupid.

·Don’t know.

·I don’t know the reason, but there is a good one.

These words speak for themselves.The students are in the dark.And that is frightening.If these kids are seeing results of tests in the newsdailies – tests that they think can tell their ability, if they are smart or stupid, if they should graduate, and so forth – think about the possible damage done to a generation already lacking in self-worth and self-esteem.

My next question is even more difficult to conceive.And, in its Orwellian undertones, points to a dangerous element of corporate schooling.

Question 2: ‘Who makes you take these tests?’

·The state senate.

·The C.I.A.

·Big school committee or government.

·The President and the Board of Trustees.

·I think the President says we need to take these tests, but I honestly don’t know.

·The law.

·The government.

·I think that the state enforces that we take the test.

·The mayor.

·The school.

·The stupid state.

·My school, principal, teachers, parents, and the United States.

·The governor.

·The government, or someone like that.

·Satan’s dogs.

·School officials.

·The person who corrects the MCAS tests.

·The state tells the school and the principal tells the teacher and the teachers tell us.

·The student council.

·The superintendent.

·The state enforces the idea on the educators in this school, and the educators enforce the idea on us – the students.

·The United States government.

·The Stanford Corporation.

·I don’t know.

The vagueness of some of these answers point to clear and direct inadequacies in the spread of information regarding these exams.And, moreso, sheds light on a few extremely harmful factors of standardized testing.First, the idea that all standardized tests must be connected.Although the results of these exams may point administrators in one direction or another with regards to other tests, the fact that the students see a strong link here (down to ‘the person correcting the tests’) demonstrates an acceptance of unilateral domination, rather than that of critical democracy.Second, these tests strike a deep chasm between the students and the institutions that they are a part of.Distrust in and dislike of their school, their government, and their socio-political leaders, is infused by the lack of knowledge about the sources and rationales of the exams; truly, hatred is bred by ignorance.Third, the fact that they don’t know or don’t care why and for whom these tests are administered shows a passive quality of thought that must not be allowed to spread further, lest we give up all our natural, rational, and social rights.Finally, and most personal, that we, as teachers, are fully implicated in this mess.The role of teacher, in the child’s mind, has become the equivalent of that of ‘tester’.And that is a real shame.

In this time of wars and tyrants and ‘well-oiled commerce’ (pardon the global pun), let us not forget our daily battles at home.If the most successful tyrant is one who is able to manufacture a haze of deceit so thick and powerful that it shades the mind to the point of passive acceptance, then the standardized tester is no more than a tyrant in educator’s clothing.Certainly, the earliest of tyrants used the same techniques as the most recent of testers.So which came first: tester or tyrant?This point is moot – we simply cannot let either laugh last.


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