How Much Further Can the Testing Madness Be Taken?

This morning while brushing my teeth and preparing for the day, I was listening to one of my favorite morning news shows. I don't always turn on the news in the mornings. Generally, it only depresses me or makes me angry which is no way to start out a perfectly good day, but sometimes I can't resist wanting to know what is going on in the world, so I turn on this one particular news station that I find to be the least offensive among my several choices.

As I was going about my morning routine preparing for the day, I heard yet another discussion of the antics of Miley Cyrus from the VMA awards Sunday night. I didn't see the show, but the news outlets have made certain than even old fogeys like myself (I haven't watched a VMA Awards show in like, ever) know about her performance which has alternately outraged and mystified those who did witness the spectacle live or saw it played again and again both on television and on the Internet. I still don't know what “twerking” is, but I heard that term used quite a bit in the discussion. It was all over my head, so by the time they got to the bit of reporting that made me sit up and take notice, I had almost totally zoned out. I suddenly became alert, however, when I heard this piece of news: apparently a major testing firm has announced its intention to introduce a test (yes, another one) that can be administered to college students as they are about to graduate that will be predictive of what kind of worker or employee the test taker will be.

Yes, you heard me right. The testing company is contending that grade point averages, college transcripts, other college records, letters of recommendations, etc. are not predictive enough to allow a potential employer to determine if a potential candidate is a good bet as an employee or not. This test will confirm for the employer whether or not taking a risk on the candidate will pay off or not.

I was stunned momentarily as I considered the absurdity of the report…but then I sadly shook my head realizing that there will be people out there who think this is a fabulous idea! After all, we can reduce anything to a multiple choice test, right? WRONG! You can't determine whether a person is a honest or moral or persistent or loyal with a multiple choice test. You also can't tell whether the person is kind or not…whether she/he is a compassionate or caring person…because a test simply cannot measure one's character or core values no matter how much a testing company would like to make you think it can measure such things. And let's not forget that a young person starting out on a new job learns a lot about the world of work by actually having to perform on the job. But a test that can “predict” all of that is all a potential employer needs to make a hiring decision. It's so wrong I can't even seriously entertain the notion except that I am quite certain others are entertaining it very seriously.

I wonder how much longer we are going to put up with this testing madness? How many more millions of dollars are testing companies like this one going to bilk our citizens out of while we try to reduce the most complicated and complex matters like talent and courage and caring to a multiple choice test?

I for one am so over the whole fascination with high stakes testing I could scream, and I know that many of my teacher friends and colleagues feel the same way. Test scores have long outweighed any concern our society has for legitimate learning or deep understanding of any subject, much less a person's creativity, talent or ability to innovate. We seem determined to try to test our way to “greatness” while we totally miss the much bigger picture. We simply won't become a better nation by generating better test takers.

I long for the day when parents, the media, and the public at large wake up to that fact and start paying attention to the really important things like nurturing the whole child and encouraging young children to learn appropriately through play and exploration without having to decide how to eliminate the wrong answers in an attempt to get the “right” answer so that they can “measure up” against false measurements. Likewise, I long for the day when we measure the worth of an individual not by the score he/she managed on a standardized test but whether or not the individual can make a meaningful contribution to society that doesn't involve bumping and grinding or “twerking” on national TV! We need young people to care about real issues including whether other countries are using chemical weapons on their own people not whether Miley Cyrus is a good girl gone bad. We need to get our priorities straight, and fast…but I wonder if it is not already too late.

It saddens me that we have reached the point that we have reached. We really need to get over our obsession with competition as the only route to success and with outrageous behavior as the only route to getting attention. It's time to say, stop the madness already. But apparently–and sadly–we aren't there yet because the news items this morning–both the Miley Cyrus discussion AND the testing idea were met with serious discussions instead of being tossed out as the absurdities that they are–both of them.

And just for the record, it's time to stop talking so much about Miley and her performance Sunday night. We are just setting the stage for the next outrageous performance by showing so much interest in this one.