Unique not Special

For 16 years since the passage of No Child Left Behind, Indiana has been following the lead of the United States Department of Education, educational testing companies, and standardized testing experts. In those 16 years, the focus of your child’s education has been narrowed by this “Testing Industrial Complex” to a single annual test: a “summative” test these experts promised would measure students, identify poor teachers, rank schools and communities, fix bad schools, catapult the US to the top of the international rankings, and close the achievement gap. To help accomplish this, they offered schools the chance to buy their “teacher-proof” textbooks and take their standardized “formative” tests, too.

Indiana’s standardized “summative” test, the ISTEP+, has been used for high stakes purposes for which it wasn’t designed. This has caused an incredibly complex security system to be put in place, leading to technical difficulties, further raising the cost of the system to taxpayers. The result is an expensive house of cards built with unfulfilled promises. It has also helped the testing companies make a lot of money.

Standardization has its uses, but far too often we have looked for it to provide simple solutions to complex problems. Solutions, which might be well intentioned, but end up useless and sometimes harmful. The “Testing Industrial Complex” of experts has a long and questionable history of this. Anya Kamenetz’s book *The Test* and Todd Rose’s book *The End of Average*, tell how standardization has been misused to marginalize, to discriminate, and to justify pseudo-science.

The irony is the countries whose educational systems we are chasing do not subject their children to annual standardized “summative” testing. The best educational systems value the entire child and have adopted an agricultural metaphor: they grow children. Our testing experts have us standardize, measure, rank and sort, while bending the use of statistics to fit political agendas.

When I was young and full of myself, my parents would tell me I was unique, but I wasn’t special. They were right. I have a son who walked at nine months and began talking at a year. My daughter was the opposite; talking at nine months and walking at a year. They both can do them equally well today…too well at times. Your child’s growth and development is unique. When education systems use standardized “summative” tests that fix times to measure children’s development, they create an arbitrary line of winners and losers in areas where patience and support would create just winners. Your child is not average. There is no average child. There is no average path. There is no average life. You are unique. I can’t speak to how special you are; ask your parents.

The ISTEP+ results released this week prove if you continually change and “improve” a test, use it in ways for which it wasn’t designed, blindfold teachers and students by not letting them know what is going to be tested, mismanage the administration of the test, and expect children to be “standard”, the results will be bad. This isn’t what Indiana’s taxpayers should be paying for, and it isn’t what Indiana’s girls and boys neither need nor deserve.