Heresy Through Testing
by Carolyn Forte
It is easy to be misled by a fallacious argument. Without careful discernment, one can be led astray by a cleverly crafted presentation. Having been involved in education in general since 1970 and homeschooling in particular since 1981, I have heard all the logical sounding arguments for standardized testing. Today, however, I read one that is in the running for the “mother of all fallacies.” An article in a popular homeschool catalog makes the claim that taking standardized tests will foster “biblical character traits” in your children!!!
After cooling down, I prayed for guidance in this rebuttal. I have no wish to be hurtful; misunderstanding about these tests has already caused enough harm. The mom who authored the article is no doubt honestly trying to find a Christian rationale for subjecting her children to these tests. The goal of my rebuttal is to educate parents about standardized tests so they and their children will be neither condemned nor enslaved by these un-Christian monstrosities of educational psychology.
The main premise of this mother’s article was that biblical character traits are fostered by the taking of standardized tests. She listed these traits as:
- Trusting submission
- Knowledgeable self-evaluation
- Discerning obedience
These certainly do sound like admirable traits for anyone to develop. The vehicle chosen, however, is singularly unsuited to the task and reveals a common yet profound misunderstanding of the world of standardized testing. Let’s take the arguments one by one.
God has entrusted our children’s education to us:
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deutoronomy 6:6-7)
How forcing our children to submit to a worldly test (yes, even the so-called “Christian” versions), created by secular psychologists and designed primarily to determine their locus of control (see below) rather than their actual academic achievement teaches them a Godly trait is beyond me. It does, however, teach them:
- To submit their education to the state
- That the state is the most important authority on what should be studied and learned
- That they are smart or dumb, well educated or neglected depending on their scores
- That only those subjects tested are really important
- That speed, rote memory and test taking skills are the most important academic goals
Finally, this argument for “trusting submission” is a non-sequitor: submission to a test does not lead to submission to God. Christian leaders and school administrators seldom read the tests they administer or they might think twice about using them. One prominent test maker offers a “Christian version.” Anyone who reads the test will be wondering what makes it “Christian.” Some of the questions on the “Christian” versions I have administered were so apalling, I shudder to think what kind of questions turn up in the secular versions.
One question on a second grade test (math section) asked a child what she should do in a certain situation. Shoplifting was one of the choices! Again, this was on the Christian version! When I asked the test publisher’s representative why questions like that were on the test, he replied, “Surely, you want to know whether your students would steal, don’t you?” His answer was an obvious obfuscation. Even if it were appropriate to ask such a question, there is no way the teacher or the school would know how the student answered that one question – in the math section! Teachers don’t have time to compare each student’s score sheet to the questions to find out how they answered.
The truth, that he didn’t want to admit, is that someone, somewhere is collecting data on children’s attitudes through these tests. You don’t have to take my word for it. Beverly K. Eakman (http://www.beverlyeakman.com/) has written several, well researched books on the subject. To whom do you want your Christian child to submit?
With this assertion, the author shows how little she understands of both the purpose of standardized tests and the meaning of the results. She apparently thinks that the test score is both academically meaningful and accurate. Neither is true of the most common standardized tests. They are almost all norm-referenced assessments, meaning that they do not test an actual skill level in a given body of knowledge, but rather they compare your child to every other child in the nation (or sample). This is how a sixth grader who loves to read can test “post high school.” She does not really have “post high school” knowledge, vocabulary and skills, but she tests as well as the average high school graduate. On the other hand, there are students who eat up tests like candy and score far higher than their academic achievement would predict. These students out-think the test makers because their learning style gives them an edge. The high score can prompt parents and teachers to push them into advanced study that may not be appropriate or to berate them for lackluster performance on school tasks.
Conversely, when a child scores poorly on a standardized test, it is impossible to know whether he got bored and quit, misunderstood the directions, got side-tracked or confused by the “distractors” in every question, or skipped a bubble in the answer sheet, making all subsequent answers wrong. He may be a victim of “test anxiety” or hungry, thirsty, too hot or cold. He may be distracted by another test taker or unable to concentrate in an unfamiliar situation. Tests present an exceedingly unnatural situation for the student, which in itself can drastically affect the score. Test makers warn that no child should ever be judged on fewer than three years of testing and that the tests weren’t designed to accurately evaluate individual children.
The most sinister element of standardized testing is the covert inclusion of psychological content that is slipped in to find out how many children can be psychologically manipulated. The test seeks to determine a child’s locus of control, the point at which he may be persuaded to change his worldview or do something contrary to the dictates of his upbringing. (see Educating for the New World Order and Cloning of the American Mind by B.K. Eakman, www.beverlyeakman.com) Anyone who carefully reads a whole test, will find several puzzling questions and some that are downright outrageous. As noted above, I have administered these tests and found the items used to question a child’s values and worldview. It may be noted that it is against federal law to include psychological content in a test without parental consent, yet whenever this content is challenged, the test makers simply rework the test and present the same thing in a new format under a new test name.
If that weren’t bad enough, several other aspects of standardized testing are inappropriately slanted toward one learning style to the detriment of all the others. These include:
- Speed: Many very intelligent children are not inclined to excessive speed. They are thoughtful, careful and thus slower than others who invest less thought in their answers. The current mania for high test scores has caused a highly inappropriate and potentially damaging demand for excessive speed from children. Speed and quality are often at odds.
- Distractors: This is a test makers’ device to trick students into marking a wrong answer. There is a distractor in every multiple choice test question. Very bright students who are divergent thinkers can envision alternate scenarios in which the distractor is correct. Divergent thinking, an essential element in genius, is actively discouraged and suppressed by our schools.
- Length of Test Sessions: Maintaining mental concentration, visual focus and physical inactivity for the extended time periods demanded by standardized tests is very difficult if not impossible for many, many very capable students, especially when they are young.
- Rigidity of Test Protocols: The rigid requirements on both student and teacher can result in excessive stress, leading to a lower score. I have witnessed very bright and capable children break down in tears because the test directions used unfamiliar terminology and procedures.
- Excessive Executive Procedures: Standardized tests are laid out in a format that is convenient for the test makers. Children can easily be confused by the array of boxes, bubbles and columns they encounter. Some tests require answers to be marked on a separate answer sheet, requiring constant visual re-focusing. This can be exhausting if not impossible for some children.
For all these reasons, standardized tests are not appropriate, much less accurate vehicles, for “self-evaluation.”
The author of the apology for testing cites Lamentations 3:40 –“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again unto the Lord.” Standardized tests are not a vehicle for turning to God! Perhaps the harried homeschool mom likes to use this verse to exhort her children to complete the work she has assigned. I feel her frustration, but she is off the mark here. Not only are standardized tests not from God, they actively and subversively aim to turn children away from God. I realize that sounds extreme, but the proof is right in the tests. I could quote examples if it were not illegal to publish actual test questions. God wants us to examine our hearts and turn to Him; it is quite a leap of logic to claim that taking a standardized test leads to “knowledgeable self-evaluation.”
Finally, the author asserts that, “Students who are familiar with testing are able to be more obedient to the Lord.” She quotes I Thessalonians 5:21 NIV (Test everything, hold on to the good.) and Romans 12:2 NIV (…then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…) in support of this premise. It may be noted that these verses admonish us to test the world, not the other way around. Moreover, Romans 12:2 KJV begins: An be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind… Nothing is more conformed to this world than standardized testing. The very word standardized informs us that our children are to be tested and gauged by a “one-size-fits-all” standard under the assumption that all possible variables have been eliminated and that the standard is a desirable one.
How one becomes “more obedient to the Lord” by taking standardized tests and thus conforming to this world is beyond me. Following the admonition to “Test everything, hold on to the good” would more likely lead us to reject the standardized test with its “scientifically” crafted multiple choice questions in favor of oral or written exposition of knowledge. Multiple choice tests evaluate students’ knowledge at a very low level of understanding, requiring only a recognition of the correct answer. This explains why many elite colleges are refusing to consider SAT and ACT scores as part of the admissions process in favor of more reliable indictors of academic success such as recommendations and actual achievement in multiple areas of life. The only thing a standardized test reliably predicts is how well the student will do on the next standardized test.
Standardized tests are unreliable as an academic assessment tool for all the reasons listed above and more. They have no valid academic use and can cause great harm by their misuse. They are created by psychologists, not teachers, and the content they supposedly assess can vary dramatically, both in substance and in style, from the material learned that year by the child. The only thing gained by taking standardized tests is skill in taking standardized tests, but even this is not always accomplished well. There are some who must take a standardized test for legal reasons. Others may want to take them to gain admission to an elite private high school or to get into college early. These are valid reasons and if you anticipate that these are in your future, go ahead and practice taking standardized tests all you want, but please, don’t rely on them to tell you how well your child is doing academically and for heaven’s sake, don’t delude yourself into believing that they will make your children “more obedient to the Lord.”
There is much misunderstanding about the necessity of testing. Basically, unless you live in a state that mandates them, there is no need for most children to take standardized tests. The type of tests referred to above, that are given in grades K-10, are never needed for college admission. One of the most commonly used tests is called the SAT 10. It was formerly known as the Stanford Achievement Test and should not be confused with the College Board’s Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Only the College Board’s SAT and the ACT are used by colleges as part of the admissions process. Moreover, although most colleges will ask for SAT or ACT scores, most will not require applicants to provide a score. Both my daughters attended and graduated from a four-year private college without ever taking the SAT or ACT. Although they are not mandatory for admission, there are scholarships associated with both the PSAT (also from the College Board) and the SAT. I am not as familiar with the ACT, but I imagine it has associated scholarships as well.
Finally, an SAT or ACT score can be used by homeschoolers to qualify for Federal Student Aid and many other scholarships. The best way to prepare a student for the SAT or ACT is with test prep materials available commercially or with test prep courses that are widely available although often expensive. Standardized test taking skills can be introduced and practiced in the lower grades at home using inexpensive test prep materials such as Spectrum Test Prep books and others but beware: these books sometimes contain some startling questions. At least the answers aren’t being fed into a giant data base somewhere.
©2016 Excellence In Education