Increased Testing = Anti-Intellectual Schools!

spent a good part of my professional career trying to convince myself the standardized test we subjected our kids in schools every spring –mattered.  My staff and I each summer would anxiously await the release of the results. We would pour over the data like stockbrokers.  We crafted grandiose statements of praise to staff and students when we did exceptionally well and heaped a whole lot of blame on the curriculum or course sequences when we did poorly.  We got excited when our school district was featured in the newspaper as moving up in the numbers and relished in the defeat of our neighboring schools who might have not fared as well on the yearly test.  We placed huge banners on the school building declaring our victory and celebrating our excellence.

I was seduced into believing this yearly one-time test was preparing kids for future success and we needed to be competitive with other countries.  If I suggested otherwise, my colleagues would give me the look of disgust as if I was un-American and did not care about the success or failure of this country.  This of course is a global world and we are competing with other kids from other countries you have to care about those results and I tried to care.


Truth be told.  They don’t matter all that much.  All that angst and stress we place on our staff and students really did not make or break anyone.  To me this is just like the High School Seniors who take the ACT or SAT multiple times to get a good score so they can get into the college or university of thier choice.   Once they are accepted and start school at the university or college of their choice NO ONE CARES what score they achieved.  It is irrelevant.  All that matters is the performance of those students in coursework.

What parents and community members need to understand is this simple idea —School district grades are essentially political and really have little to do with the education of students. Imagine for a moment, if magically all the schools achieved A’s on the district report card….politicians and the like would not declare public schools “great” or “fixed” they would instead demand we raise the bar.  That makes the whole process one about politics and not about the education of children.

What it means to be educated has nothing to do with the results on any standardized test.  In fact, it re-enforces what I have said to my teachers when I was superintendent….that school is a really an anti-intellectual space often devoid of critical thinking.  The obsession with testing has created an environment that lacks creativity, inspiration, critical thinking, and squashes invention.

It instead creates schools that look like test-prep centers and deskills the professional teacher as we focus only on passing the “test.”  This is further exacerbated as we use those student test results to rate teachers. If you think teachers taught to the test before — it will only intensify as teachers job performance is linked to those results.

There is a cost associated with our obsession with testing and it is not monetary — we could lose what makes American Education great. Our greatness and strength comes from our innate ability to invent and create.  Our lack of fear and can do spirit.  It is the belief that our personal history is ours to write…and we can be whoever and whatever we wish to become.  No standardized test can ever measure those truly American qualities — but once lost we will all feel the impact.


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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