Why Tests and Standards Can't Solve School Problems

Feb. 21, 2001                   by:  Phyllis Schlafly

Tests, standards and accountability are being advocated
as the solution to the problems of public school education.
Those are such good words; why can't they do the job?

The testing system has been corrupted. Under the 1997
revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA), the school must give "appropriate
accommodations" on every test to all "children with

Accommodation means that the child can be given
assistance by someone who can read the test questions
to him, explain to him what was read, and even write the
answers for him. An 8th grade reading test is ridiculous if
the student can't read it himself.

In the settlement of a lawsuit this month, Oregon pledged
to "broaden the current list of allowable accommodations"
and allow learning disabled students to use spell-check
software on their writing tests. Educators predict that this
settlement will become a blueprint for other states to

Allowing the schools or the states to assist learning
disabled students, or even exclude them entirely, provides
an open door to finagling the test results, and the states
have figured out how to work this racket. Since schools
receive additional federal money for every child labeled
learning disabled, there is a financial incentive to increase
the numbers.

The high stakes involved in test results virtually mandate
that teachers will be required to "teach to the test."
Teaching to the test means teaching only the small
percentage of material that will actually be covered on the

Traditional teaching, on the other hand, involves
presenting a considerable quantity of information to the
students and then testing their knowledge by asking
questions on items randomly selected from the total
material. When test-taking takes priority over learning, this
dumbs down education because a narrower body of
knowledge is taught.

Teaching to the test contains built-in incentives to fraud
since teachers' salaries, bonuses and jobs, the school's
funding and even its existence, and the student's chance
to go to college or get a job, are already being tied to
performance on these "high-stakes tests." Some teachers
have already been put through workshops conducted by
state bureaucrats to train them in which items to focus on
so their students will perform well.

Tests are now called assessments, which is a semantic
clue to the large element of subjectivity that has invaded
the questions and the scoring. The most commonly
understood meaning of the word assessment is the
tax-collector's assessment of our property, and we all
know how subjective that can be.

Some of the answers are not right or wrong, true or false,
and are scored by temporary workers who get rewarded
for speed. More and more tests are burdened with the
liberal/feminist dogmas called Political Correctness.

One Michigan test required students to write an argument
for or against sending women into military combat. That
topic will inevitably be scored on attitudes and values
rather than on composition, grammar or spelling.

One National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP) test contains three questions that ascribe
unworthy motives to the white settlers who came to
America, three questions that measure the student's
support of radical environmentalism, and a question
instructing students to write a letter to their U.S. Senators
telling them which government programs the student wants

Nationally, tests are planned to be given only in reading
and math. This means that English, science and history
will be given short shrift or even omitted, since tests will be
all that matters in evaluating teachers and schools.

When it comes to the standards to which the assessments
are tied, have we so quickly forgotten the uproar about the
federally funded National History Standards of 1995 which
omitted or downgraded some of America's greatest
achievers and used obscure and third-rate figures to
teach diversity revisionism? Those standards were so
anti-American they were denounced by the U.S. Senate in
a vote of 99 to 1.

Have we so quickly forgotten the national math standards,
which were denounced by 200 prestigious
mathematicians, including four Nobel Laureates, because
they failed to teach basic skills? Their criticisms were
published in a full-page ad in the November 18, 1999
Washington Post, but that had no effect on the U.S.
Department of Education's determination to induce
schools to adopt fuzzy math curricula.

Then there is the announced goal called accountability, a
word that cries out to be followed by a preposition and an
object. Accountability has no meaning unless one is
accountable to someone or something.

It appears that the plan is to make the schools
accountable to the U.S. Departments of Education and
Labor. But what parents want is accountability to parents
and local school boards, not to a federal or state agency.

The stated goal of the new proposals is to "narrow the
achievement gap." Let's remember that the gap can be
closed by bringing top and bottom together, not
necessarily by raising the bottom to a higher level of

                      Phyllis Schlafly column 2-21-01