"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Commentary on Recent SAT Recommendations

by Glen Ford for the Black Agenda Report:
There is a growing realization that standardized testing for college entrance does not serve the interests of educational excellence or reward merit. Rather, SATs, PSATs and their clones tend to freeze already existing societal privilege in place, allowing the already well-off to pass on that status to their children. The assessment comes from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, and from no less than Harvard University's dean of admissions and financial aid, William Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons says, "The test scores appear to calcify differences based on class, race/ethnicity and parental educational attainment." In other words, the children of white parents who make good livings and had good educations, tend to do well in standardized tests. But the tests don't reliably predict how well the kids will do in college.

The educators note the vast differences that exist in life and learning experiences that are available to children in the United States. "No one who visits the range of secondary schools we visit," they concluded, "and goes to the communities we visit...can come away thinking the standardized tests can be a measure of someone's true worth or ability."

The admissions counselors also urged that PSATs not be used to decide who is eligible for scholarships.

"Real education is grinding to a halt at schools across the nation, under the weight of relentless, ruthless testing."

This is very good news, the logic of which would be to finally destroy the rule of standardized tests - not just for college, but throughout the educational system. There is a huge body of study that shows race and class privilege is further embedded in society through the use of these tests, which have become a bulwark of rigidity, not mobility, in the United States. And that most emphatically means breaking the classist, racist grip of hyper-testing in elementary and secondary education, through the stifling No Child Left Behind Act.

The Bush regime and the plutocrats it serves understand perfectly well that class and race structures reinforce the rule of...people like themselves. That's one reason they have imposed the draconian and educationally counter-productive standardized testing regime on the U.S. public education system. The other, related motivation is to "prove" public schools are failing, in order to boost private schooling and bogus theories of "marketplace education."

In ways that are only now being understood, real education is grinding to a halt at schools across the nation, under the weight of relentless, ruthless testing. In the process, teacher creativity, innovation and just plan caring fall by the wayside.

Standardized testing does not encourage the deepening of democracy. Instead, it rewards privilege. This outcome is cumulative, adding layer upon layer of culture- and class-biased test results to all the other burdens and assaults that children of non-privileged parents will endure in their school lives. That's not a meritocracy - it's a caste system.

There will always be a place for properly constructed testing in society. But tests should never be wielded as weapons against those born with less, to benefit the already fortunate.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

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