But the origins of standardized testing is much more sinister than even the current outcomes. I just read a piece, “The Racist Beginnings of Standardized Testing,” by John Rosales, who writes for the NEA. Starting at the beginning of the 19th century, with its influx of immigrants, white Anglo-Saxon social scientists became concerned that their hegemony was being threatened. They wrote about the inferiorities of other races and designed tests, which evolved into SATs, ACT (American College Testing) PSATS, and Binet’s IQ tests to prove that blacks were not as intelligent as whites and allowed for the military to put black soldiers in segregated groups. And so it began and continues to this day.
Rosales cites Gil Troy’s article “The Racist Origins of the SAT,” slamming the originators of these tests: Binet, the Frenchman who created a test that evolved into the IQ test; Carl Brigham, who developed aptitude tests for the US army; and Lewis Terman from Standford, who adapted Binet’s test for the Stanford-Binet IQ test. “All-American decency and idealism coexisted uncomfortably with these scientists’ equally American racism and closemindedness.”
As a long-time associate of my alma mater, Columbia’s Teachers College, I have attended meetings and conferences with lots of hand-wringing on the “Achievement Gap.” Isn't it possible that test results demonstrating the under-achievement of African and Hispanic Americans is an artifact of racially biased tests that are still being used today? FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, has won a lawsuit against the Texas TAAS test for its racist bias.
My new stand for education is to throw out all the testing and bring the joy of learning back to the classroom. I don’t have hard evidence about how this can be transformative but I just finished working with a group of boys (4th, 5th, and 6th graders) at an Xposure Foundation after school program. (Dog whistle—no tests.) Originally, I had planned on having the kids make videos of science tricks from my book We Dare You!. But then we decided to settle upon one interesting trick involving air pressure.
The trick in question is called “A Really BIG Sucker” and it asks the question, “What is the length of the longest straw you can suck through and still get something to drink?” I had a very intense first session with the kids, invoking Socrates by asking them question after question until they came to realize that it was the force of air pressure on the surface of their drink that pushed the drink up the straw. Suddenly, there was that wonderful light in their eyes. Instead of making a video of the trick, the boys were fascinated by the science! They began asking questions that led us to new experiments (ones I hadn't thought of) on subsequent days. They discovered that they could get a some fluid through an 8.5 -foot piece of aquarium tubing used as a straw. This led to experimenting with a 25-foot length of tubing, with the drinker in a stairwell, sucking from a glass of juice two stories down!
At our last meeting at the end of the school year, I gave each boy a copy of my new STEM Award book How Could We Harness a Hurricane?, which includes yet another discussion of the many powers of air pressure. It’s a challenging book, but I have no doubt it will be a highlight of their summer vacation. This is this kind of learning experience that changes lives. One boy said to me, "It's an honor to have met you." I feel it was my honor to have met them.
I’m not sure how you could measure their experience on a standardized test. But I saw no evidence of an achievement gap. There was no agenda here except inherent joy of learning.