Everyone in the education world is too crazy about assessment, testing, and standard exams; we see it as the last measure of control we still have against our students. We cannot do without it for that will mean the end of our educational dominance for good.
I wouldn’t call the endeavor to standardize education a vice; after all, we don’t want our students, the seeds of a better tomorrow, to be lost in the misbehaving of teenage, and the unawareness of what matters in this life. But do we know what matters in this life? At least, do we think we know it better than our students? If we do, we should also know that if we are planning to help students realize their potential to give their best to make this world a better place for all, merely standardizing education is not enough. Standardization has been a great achievement in many fields; can you imagine having to accommodate many different voltages on one device, if not for the standardization of the electric current voltage worldwide. There are many examples of standardization in many sectors that helped to transform local products to potentially global commodities. However, none of these shining examples of standardization encompass humans.
Trying to treat humans like machines has never given out any memorable good results, except for the invention and the art of army making and army tactics, which contradict what I am about to say here, but I don’t think it is an honorable mention in the history of mankind, so I will simply skip it. Human beings and dealing with human beings is so different from anything else we may do with machines, and here comes the importance of seeing that fact when we think of our educational systems. There cannot be any system that can fit the needs of all students at the same time, so customization is a must. So far, many might think of that conclusion as simple logic, which it is, but even with all the customization teachers try to introduce into their classes, from differentiated instruction to the applications of Gardner’s seven intelligences in classes to Bloom’s taxonomy and his lower and higher level of thinking skills with its reflection on planning lessons and activities, etc., there is still a wall all creative and enthusiastic teachers hit, standardized international exams: SAT, TOEFL, IELTS, IGCSE, AP, GMAT, GRE, and the list can become quite extensive of all these standardized exams that are meant to measure the ability of students. This whole measurement will most probably only decide the future of students; it can never get any more important than that.
The real question behind these standardized tests is not their ability to test how much the students have absorbed some mathematical or linguistic concepts because they are known to having excelled at this kind of measurement. However, I have tried over the years of my experience in teaching SAT, IELTS, TOEFL, and GMAT to ask myself one question: how do these tests evaluate students’ grit, determination, problem-solving skills especially while holding on under pressure, creativity, teamwork, research skills, etc. In short, how do they test what makes a person successful in the real world away from the confines of the classroom. The unfortunate answer that I found that none really can measure any of those sample skills I mentioned earlier. For example, in real life, especially in the modern workplace, we highly encourage collaboration and cooperation between team members to step away from individuality and closer to the world of teamwork. However, we still have no intention to test in pairs or groups, and we have the best Gestapo proctoring techniques to catch anyone who might be using a dictionary or in some exams a calculator, and victoriously call them cheaters and flunk them immediately. Well, guess what, in real life they will always use dictionaries and calculators; nobody is going to memorize a dictionary, for that defeats the purpose a dictionary came into being in the first place. In short, our obsession with control is not going to take our students anywhere close to being useful in today’s competitive job market.
Everyone is celebrating today the coming to the age of common core standards and their integration in the most important SAT. We have simply decided how to enhance and empower conformity in the lives of those so-called seeds of the future, and our best bet lies in a couple of bright, rebellious fellows that might drop out of this paralyzed educational system to come up with the next Apple or Microsoft. I cannot say that taking the way towards more customization is going to be easy, and I am not a fan of a world without rules and any level of tests, but the road we are taking towards more standardization and conformity is definitely going to create a generation of humanoid robots, WHICH we will blame later for not being as creative as the icons from our generation have been. Thanks to our standardization and programming of these young fellows, we haven’t seen Mozarts, Shakespeares, or Newtons in a while; and I doubt we will ever do if we do not dare to change the whole nature of our mechanically paralyzed educational system.
November 16, 2015