What It Do: Starting From The Bottom

Remember kindergarten? Coloring books. Story time. Finger painting. Paste tacos. Okay, that last one might have just been my experience, but you get the idea. It’s supposed to be about developing a child’s cognitive abilities, social skills, and creative impulses.

Unfortunately, the standardized testing zealots have sunk their pseudo-analytical little claws into early childhood education, and kindergarten has now become a kid’s first introduction into the stress of arbitrary numerical evaluation. Supporters of such policies would argue that, with a limited number of spaces in any given class, there must be some means of ensuring that resources go to the most “deserving” students.


Let’s be clear. A five-year-old child’s cognitive potential can’t be quantified by crude multiple choice tests, and the results of such a misguided experience can’t be used to make an informed decision regarding that child’s academic future. Believing otherwise is foolish arrogance, similar to 20th century psychiatrists insisting that autism was caused by narcissistic mothers.

Just as those so-called experts caused profound damage to countless families with their narrow-mindedness, the Cult of the Scantron is actively destroying the creative potential of an entire generation. Leave aside the tragedy of brilliant kids getting shunted away from good schools simply because of a meaningless evaluation. Even the kids deemed worthy are trained to see themselves as a number, right at the moment they are forming their first ideas about identity.

The experience is reportedly stressful. In October, the New York Daily News reported on the issue, quoting a Bronx kindergarten teacher who detailed the difficulty inherent in walking her students through the test. Aside from the fact that many of them haven’t properly learned the full alphabet or even how to hold a pencil, she also said they often don’t quite understand the connection between the correct answer and the separate circle they are required to fill in.

This isn’t because they lack potential or capability. It’s because they are little children, and, while some kids basically come out of the womb reading and talking, other (very smart) kids take a little more time to come into their own. In that same article, a Staten Island teacher was quoted as saying, “I can tell when a student needs help. I don’t have to give them a test.”

This gets to the central conflict inherent in the standardized testing debate. Children are human beings, with complexity and a robust internal life, and understanding them requires just as much time and attention as understanding an adult; more really, as they generally haven’t yet learned how to fully communicate about their thoughts and emotions. The idea that you can learn anything of value about them from a test displays an astonishing lack of comprehension regarding human nature and potential.

But we all know this isn’t really about providing quality education, or even objectively evaluating student performance. It is, as with everything in this gangster nation of ours, about profit.

Across the nation, these tests are mandated by politicians who have been bought with campaign contributions (along with god knows what other under-the-table payoffs), at the behest of the for-profit testing industry. Five companies run the game: Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Harcourt and Kaplan (owner of the Washington Post).

In addition to the testing racket, they have their greedy little fingers in other pies. Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt and McGraw-Hill essentially own the textbook market—another area where political favors are utilized to maintain market share. The highlight of this particular money scheme is the practice of publishing new foreign language books every other year, as if there had been major breakthroughs in the Spanish past subjunctive. Students and/or schools are compelled by corrupt politicians to purchase what amounts to a repackaging of what was already available, with prices inflated for maximum profit.

Kaplan is best known for their domination of the for-profit higher education hustle, trolling for gullible would-be strivers, taking them for as many dollars as possible, and—maybe—giving them a degree barely worth the PDF in which it’s embedded; however, their wholesale demolition of the Washington Post’s (ill-deserved) credibility has been somewhat fun to watch.

Pearson seems to be all-in on the student evaluation game, offering everything from the tests themselves all the way to a range of high-dollar consulting services for school districts and institutions. Basically, it’s a snake oil hustle. They sell you the thing that makes you think you have a problem (the test), then they sell you their interpretation of the problem (analysis of the test), so they can then sell you the so-called cure (the consulting services).

But their solution won’t help educate our children any more than snake oil will relieve pain (or heal blisters, or remove warts, or really much of anything save making you smell like mineral oil mixed with turpentine and red pepper).


Alex Benson can be reached at alexb@theaquarian.com.