Will This Be on the Test?

Virtually every teacher has told the story: There you are, winding up the day's class. A student has just made a splendid observation. Synapses are firing and hearts are opening. The air is bright and electric. Then, with seconds left, a raised hand casts an ominous shadow. "Yes, Jerome?" you say. "Will this be on the test?" he asks.

You might think that Jerome has not yet developed the confidence to engage in the adventure of learning, or that he is a joyless grind. But according to President Bush, the Senate, and ed. biz folks across the country, Jerome is right on the money.

As Europe moves away from the rigid national testing that for so long determined its students' academic and career destinies, the United States tests more and more. Even prior to the Senate's recent passage of a bill that mandates annual testing in grades three to eight and once again in high school, the United States was already administering approximately half a million different kinds of standardized tests to its children each year, and 49 states already required annual standardized testing. Testing makes such a splash here because it plays well to both melodies in our national psyche's anthem-individualism and egalitarianism.

Those who define rigor as setting the bar high enough so that a certain portion of kids are bound not to make it are drawn to annual testing and anything else swathed in the mantle of standards. "Enough of feel-good, dumb-downed curricula" is their cry. Let's determine what those third graders should know and make damn well sure we find out if they know it. If they don't, we can leave them in their (often dilapidated and overcrowded) schools for longer that same year, or leave them back. If they work hard, they should smarten up just fine, and if they don't, they give us no choice but to leave them behind permanently. Right?

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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