When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids – The Washington Post

| December 6, 2011

Here’s an interesting article, in the Washington Post, about an adminstrator who took his school system’s own test:

When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids – The Answer Sheet – The Washington Post.

First, I’m way ahead of this, having written a while ago on that peculiar game show, Who’s Smarter than a Fifth Grader, and the way in which it unintentionally calls out the absurdity of fifth grade while appearing to laugh at adults. Yes, adults are stupid. But we are stupid not in the way we imagine. Or rather, we are stupid in the way we imagine. We test for the wrong things.

Which is why the action of the administrator in this piece, of taking his own medicine, is so extraordinary. What if the test for tests was whether, say, people doing interesting things, would be interested in taking it?

Only, can’t we just test this out really quickly, right now, by running it through a simulation in our own imagination? And wouldn’t we discover that what we actually believe is that this is not what tests are for? That is, whether we enjoy them or not, don’t we recognize that when we take a test, what we are doing is playing the game of “what does this person/institution think of me (compared to the person sitting to my right)?” The guise of aptitude, competence, or knowledge, is the thinnest of veils. In other words, people doing interesting things, or all of us to the extent that we have interesting things to do, don’t take tests. (Although we might conduct experiments.) We take tests only when we have nothing better to do, or are interested in playing that particular game.

So if we test out our imagination here, don’t we imagine that tests are specifically designed to be stupid in passable ways? That their function is not to assess knowledge, or our future, but one’s willingness to be that particular kind of stupid? Don’t we imagine test writers, (and I’ve written a few myself) to be a dreary, nasty, pedantic lot? Take a moment to listen to what teachers say when they talk about writing or grading tests. Often the disgust and violence is barely converted into resentment, never mind hope, equanimity, or practicality.

We perhaps dream of tests being the last defense against the loss of hope, (“student’s in my day…”). It would be this greater evil that precisely demands the whole nasty business of high stakes testing. But what if tests are precisely the application of this disgust? What if they are both the intensifier and modulator of it, allowing us to express it, and bring it under our control, directing it where we will?

This is the cruelty that Who’s Smarter than a Fifth Grader drags to the surface and converts to laughs. And this is why administrators should under no conditions be allowed to take their own tests. Because what it would tell us is not that we need better tests, but that we are not who we think we are. That we are stupider and meaner than we would care to imagine.

Is this not the true revolt behind the teachers and principles resistance to high stakes testing? Not that testing is wonky, we knew this already, but that they should under no circumstances be forced to take the tests themselves, even if through their students. Such a thought is revolting.

We prefer to go only half way. To read this article as a call for better tests, tests that would not put administrator’s in such awkward positions as either revolt, or the humiliation of testing poorly. Conversely we could imagine a world in which every teacher or test maker would have to submit to their own class or test, so that the failures of tests could be tested for and recalibrated. The solution to tests is more relevant testing. A test for tests.

But even if we take this administrator’s role-switching as a call for more widespread gestures of humility and a need to get re-connected, doesn’t even this test our own willingness to imagine what it is that we are doing when we are doing testing at all?

Here we would prefer to say, don’t test us.