The Wrong Standards

The very idea of standards is backward looking–even when standards are necessary. It cannot be otherwise: It’s impossible to measure the future, and standards are based on measurement; that is, they can take advantage only of the things that can be measured—things that are, not things that might be. Speculation cannot be utilized, for it is inherently variable and, therefore, non-standard. The same is true of personal judgment. Standards, with the false sense of stability they necessarily provide, present the image of a rigid, unchanging world, one of absolutes, of truth, of certainty.

A world unlike the one we experience, or even the one that we find on the Web.

And our attitudes towards standards, our acceptance of them, are inherently conservative, too, especially when we talk of the raising of them as a goal for education. Not only do any standards we propose reflect an immediately out-of-date perception of the world, but they reinforce it. Through the standardized testing at the heart of our contemporary quest for standards, we create the idea that answers exist as as things, as veins of gold in territory student must explore. Answers become part of the countable, part of the world, and part of the past.

In terms of education and the digital age, there’s a problem with this. In the future (even in the present), unlike on standardized tests—or on any multiple-choice tests—there is no guarantee that a correct answer exists. There is no guiding intelligence setting up correct answers behind a Google search, merely an algorithm blindly executed by the search program. Oddly, in the outward form of a search, there’s a correspondence to the multiple-choice question. We may create the question, but we also choose the answer, just as on the test. Unfortunately, though, the search engines, for all of their advertised claims, do not provide answers, only correspondences. Turning those into answers is up to the user. That very task, however, is missing from a multiple-choice test, where the job is one of identification, and in specified and preset conditions only.

The mindset created by the testing environment is antithetical, at the very least, to competent usage of the World Wide Web; the attitude towards information we are now developing in the minds of American children will only hamper them when they turn to the Internet as adults. Though search-engine results may look like a menu of possible answers, the task simply being identification of the correct one, the similarity is only skin deep.

Though we may believe we are creating new and higher standards, all we are doing through our reliance on standardized testing is making it more and more difficult for students to meet the standards they will encounter in the future.

Everyone knows all this.

Why, then, do we continue our fascination with quantifiable standards?

One thought on “The Wrong Standards

  1. This is a long-standing dispute. The reason we 'measure' what is immeasurable is to provide evidence for decisions that were made long since. I was trying to remember the name of a book I found very influential in the 80s, about accountability in Education by a couple of Education profs I knew (but whose names now elude me) which, if I can remember the name of it, I'll send you. This was right at the very BEGINNING of the “accountability” craze. Not just “testing,” but “high-stakes testing.” One of the guys was named Wayne something…I hope it'll come to me, cuz it prtesents the situation with great clarity.


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