When Stanford Professor Linda Darling Hammond speaks, people listen: she is considered one of the nation’s top-ten most influential people affecting educational policy since presiding over the American Educational Research Association, then leading President Barack Obama’s education-policy transition team. In her 2015 TED Talks presentation, “Testing, Testing,” she challenges the entire basis of No Child Left Behind standardized tests with a powerful central claim: “Dozens of studies have shown that the kinds of standardized tests we use predict almost nothing about your success later in life.”
Google, she says, found similar results when using their own standardized test to determine whether a candidate would be a good fit for a job; they found “there was no correlation between those scores and how people performed on the job,” and they canceled the program. Instead, Google developed metrics and systems to discover how well a candidate could use creative-problem, higher-order thinking skills to gather new, quality information, apply it to a complex problem, work with other people to develop and test it, and create innovative products. These are the skills our children need, rather than the memorization-based, rote-skill questions that appear in national standardized testing.
Hammond’s most profound argument is based on Stanford research revealing “between 1999 and 2003 there was more new knowledge created in the world than in the entire history of the world preceding.” How can all of this new knowledge be divided into twelve years of rote-based schooling? How can students be able to memorize the facts that will be relevant to their lives and workplaces? She adds, “Our young people are going into a world where they will use knowledge that hasn’t been discovered yet and technologies that have not been invented yet, to solve complex problems that we have not managed to solve…”
Some students’ test anxiety and a sense of failure are further hindrances to school performance, as their engagement wanes and “students feel less joy and more fear.” So why preoccupy children with memorization-based problems present in standardized testing?
Teachers, Hammond tells us, don’t appreciate the disrespect students experience within the testing system. And teachers resent the effect that testing-driven teaching has on students; she says, “85% of teachers said standardized testing undermines quality teaching and 45% have considered leaving the profession because test prep has come to dominate curriculum.” How can teachers inspire high-order thinking and creativity if they’re required to focus on memorization-based multiple-choice tests? Hammond adds, “Students and parents around the country began opting out… Several hundred thousand parents refuse to allow their students to take the standardized test.” Parents are educating themselves on the facts, and perhaps one of the most revealing facts is that, though we test our students more than in any country worldwide, “we have been falling further behind other countries, now ranking 21st and 32nd on those international assessments which actually evaluate higher-order thinking and students’ abilities to apply their knowledge to new problems.”
As we were editing this blog, President Obama spoke out about standardized testing, proposing a cap on standardized testing with no more than 2% of class time spent on test prep. Here is an article from Salon.