End Times for Standardized Testing

My experience and expertise about why it must end now

By Jeff Treistman

“Characterize people by their actions, and you’ll never be fooled by their words.”

I grew up Jewish in the shadow of the holocaust. I was born ten years after World War Two when the memories and images were still fresh. One lesson that I learned early on was that the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews showed that racism and eugenics were wrong.

As it turns out the founders of the testing movement were academics who promoted the racist idea of eugenics. I learned about this when I was in high school, which was the late sixties and early seventies. Along with the desire for relevant, hands on learning, it is one of the reasons I sought a progressive education in high school and college.

I went into the teaching profession fifteen years ago. I was not in favor of standardized testing then but since I was newly inducted into the teaching corps I went along, because I needed the job. It was at precisely the same time that the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) was rolled out in the state of Washington; it was the first wave of mandatory, high stakes tests. There were many more to follow.

Watching the parade of hundreds of students became my personal image of dystopia.

When I became a middle school librarian, ten years ago, I was assigned the duty of test coordinator. It was that experience and all of the research I’ve done since then that set me on a course of total opposition to the practice of standardized testing. Watching the parade of hundreds of students into the computer labs for testing, closing the library for weeks on end, became my personal image of dystopia.

There are a lot of other reasons to end standardized testing but to me the most urgent one, given the state of our country’s politics, is because I see them as racist. Dr. Ibram X Kendi, Director of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center, put it best when he wrote, “Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black minds and legally exclude their bodies.”

The thing that these standardized tests do well is to sort students by socio-economic status. Which is exactly what they have been designed to do, so they are doing their job. The problem is that they do absolutely nothing to end racism. They are advertised as an equalizer but in fact they are barriers. They are racist through and through and that is no longer acceptable.

The bad news is that there are a lot of things we are doing completely wrong, raising the next generation. The good news is that there are a lot things we do right and ways to fix the things we do wrong. But at some point we have to face the music. This is my song.