Last week, a group called the New York Collective of Radical
Educators staged a protest against standardized testing.
Responding to recent reports about substantial gains for fourth-
graders on citywide reading and writing examinations, the group
argued that the improved scores reflect "drill-and-kill" test-
preparation activities rather than real learning. Worst of all,
protesters maintained, the entire testing enterprise discriminates
against racial minorities. For blacks and Hispanics especially, they
said, standardized tests inhibit academic achievement and increase
the dropout rate.
The only problem is, blacks and Hispanics don't see it that way.
Over the past decade, public opinion surveys have demonstrated
overwhelming support among racial minorities for high-stakes
testing. In a 2003 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, for example,
three-quarters of Latinos said that standardized tests "should be
used to determine whether students are promoted or can graduate."
Two-thirds agreed that the federal government "should require states
to set strict performance standards for public schools," as mandated
under President Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
Likewise, African-Americans favor high-stakes tests by large
margins. To be sure, activist groups like the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People have criticized NCLB and state
graduation exams. But the black rank and file tell another story.
According to a 1998 survey by Public Agenda, nearly 8 of 10
African-American parents want schools to test children and publicize
black-white achievement differences, just as NCLB requires.Only 28
percent say that standardized tests are "culturally biased" against
black children, as critics often maintain. Many of these critics
work at schools of education, where the standardized test serves as
a symbol of everything that's wrong with American teaching.
According to the Ed-School Gospel, as I call it, schools should
reflect student interests, not the sterile demands of "the
curriculum"; they should employ a wide variety of classroom
materials, not just the district-approved textbook; they should
promote group learning and cooperation; and they should evaluate
each student based on her or his own progress, not on district or
In every way, the argument goes, standardized testing harms these
goals. It ignores the interests of the individual student; it
promotes needless competition and anxiety; it turns learning into a
lock-step exercise, inhibiting exploration and imagination; and it
measures students against an arbitrary standard, ignoring their
idiosyncratic abilities and attributes. …