grading my first paper, I could tell the
good writers from the bad, and their
first grades were a good indication of
their final grades. Most students left
my class with the same capacity to
write as when they arrived.
During my second year, I tried something new. My syllabus indicated that
the only way to pass was to write at least
one extremely good paper. It might take
a poor writer the entire semester or a
good writer a week, but that was not
within my control. My job was to support them based on their needs. I would
determine grades by how often they
wrote well, with a single success resulting in a C and additional successful
work eventually earning an A.
I had good writers who earned their
A’s by the halfway point, while other
good (but lazy) students wrote well
once and took a C. I had poor writers
who struggled all semester to earn the
C, and a few who, through effort and
A system that makes time and effort the variables and student success
the constant is easily within our grasp. Standardize the right things,
and standardized testing will cease to matter.
extra time with me, actually achieved
A’s and B’s. Regardless, no one walked
out the door without having met a certain standard. On the last day of class,
I could have easily ranked my students
in terms of writing ability, but at that
point, it no longer mattered.
I had found a way to standardize an
outcome and de-standardize everything else. All my students were given
a true opportunity to achieve at a very
high level, and almost all of them did.
My students differed dramatically in
terms of the date on which they accomplished the task, the effort required,
and certainly their ability to write, but
by removing time and effort as constants, ability no longer mattered.
A standardized test given once each
year only answers the ability question—
what each student is able to do at that
moment in time—but, as my example
shows, the bridge between ability and
success has a lot to do with time and
effort as well.
of its form, more valuable or conduct
tests more swiftly due to these new
ideas and technological advances.
But the medium does not change
the nature of standardized testing,
which suggests that every student
should learn the same things at the
same time (often in the same way)
as their peers.
While performance-based assessment may have more merit than a
multiple-choice exam, for example,
the standardization of requirements
and expectations will not change because of new strategies or software.
Many lawmakers in the United States
embrace standardized testing as an
accurate appraisal of the success of
our education system. Teachers are
held responsible for their students’
performance, regardless of classroom
demographics, personal lives, or individual challenges. This will not change
until we are bold enough to challenge
the convention that students must be
Standardized testing, regardless of its form, may be made more
valuable or may be conducted more swiftly due to these new ideas
and technological advances. But the medium does not change the
nature of standardized testing.
grouped by age to learn a regulated
list of concepts.
What are the goals of an education system? If we mean to create
a standardized experience for our
youth so that every child grows up
to have known, seen, and done similar things, we do them a great disservice. A unique perspective is invaluable to any situation. Just as biodiver-sity is important to the survival of a
species because it endows the ability
to resist disease or withstand environmental challenges, a heterogeneity of
exposure and understanding is vital
to our students’ intellectual future
Standardized testing may shift and
change in the future, but it can only
become obsolete when the system
begins to recognize the value of
diverse education and experience.
New assessment technology will
only change our methods, not our