We’ve been there before…

“The task of returning testing to its proper place will be difficult….Those of us who believe in educational equity are facing enormously difficult problems,,,,Our belief in democracy–that normal every day people can make sense of their world and learn to make decisions about it– is at stake…There…is arising a renewed interest in educational tracking…and in new legislative proposals to support private education… All these anti-egalitarian trends….are nourished by the renewed focus on testing

“To the ideologues of the New Right, the focus on testing appears correct and proper, since the free play of market forces ‘naturally’ produces inequality… Such nonsense will someday fade. But the ‘normal’ curve so deeply and perniciously embedded in American education through the use of standardized norm-referenced testing will not fade as quickly. …The much needed development of a theory and practice consistent with democratic schooling is crippled by the existing means of evaluating and documenting educational success. It will not flourish, even in better times, until we break with the dominant ideology of 20th century psychometrics.”

Guess when that was written? 31 years ago. It appeared in the Fall, 1981 Dissent magazine, and includes examples of test items, their impact on reform, as well as useful alternatives. In just 10 pages. Author? me. (It can be read in full–see Articles above–look for Why Reading Tests Don’t Test Reading, pdf) )

It hurts to repeat what we knew 31 years ago. But I also think that we’re writing today to a broader, more powerful audience, representing far more activists than was the case in the 80’s. At least, I’m hoping so. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we can overcome the testing obsession by logic, good analysis, or its palpable silliness alone. Yes, we also still need to educate. But we gave a lot of great speeches on this topic during the 70’s and 80’s, and everyone–superintendents, politicians, and teaches–clapped loudly–and then did nothing about it. We–the good guys and the bad guys–still use test scores as a synonym for intellectual achievement!!

There was a moment, shortly after I wrote this piece for Dissent, when I imagined we had defeated the test-makers. But I was wrong. They were, it seems, just preparing themselves for the next stage of their plan to thoroughly demolish the idea itself of democratic schooling.

In 2013 let’s see if we can breakthrough the fog of camouflage–testing s the new civil rights plan– that is driving the education agenda these days. To 2013! Happy New Year one and all.