There is nothing objective about standardized testing.


-By Karl-Heinz Gabbey

Please allow me to add an observation regarding this thing you call “objectivity”: It doesn’t exist! “Objectivity” exists nowhere in the private or public sectors, including education. Beyond state mandates, school boards and administrators, usually in negotiation and collaboration with teacher representatives, set standards and rules for teachers. Teachers, in turn, set standards and rules for students. In principle, bosses in the private sector do the same for their employees. Reasonable individuals strive for what is valid, fair, moral, and yields the best results; though in the end, beauty is still in the eyes of the beholder.

That’s called subjectivity. The best we can do to prevent a clash of subjectivities and to operate within a reasonable framework, is for us to create collaboratively certain ground rules embodied in a legal contract that binds all parties. In truth, where is the “objectivity” here?

No matter how hard we try to be totally objective, we will never achieve it due to mankind’s imperfections. Human beings are not perfect machines, and what they produce even with great precision always has flaws. Ever hear of car recalls?

Among the greater imperfections or follies of mankind are standardized tests like PARCC, particularly when they abuse children and are misused as teacher evaluation instruments. One fact that I learned from a very wise, former colleague is that if these standardized tests “test” anything “they really test the community in which the school is located.” Give that some thought.

Spare yourself the agony in the attempt to achieve “objectivity.” End your useless obsession. I have a feeling that you could find far better things to do.

5 thoughts on “There is nothing objective about standardized testing.

  1. No matter how hard we try to be totally objective, we will never achieve it due to mankind’s imperfections.

    Nor is there total subjectivity (there will always be reference to some objective standard in order for there to be a basis for communication or assessment). There is a continuum, and the fact we cannot achieve either end does not mean it is useless to abandon objectivity. After all, if it was possible to achieve total objectivity, most would admit it was a desirable condition – it would, after all, discount factors of bias and prejudice (of course, not everyone would benefit from loss of bias – but few would really care to admit it).

    Mr. Gabbey is incorrect when he says there is “nothing” objective about standardized testing. He is correct that it is certainly not perfect (as would be the total embrace of subjectivity), but there is merit in continuing to strive for more objectivity.

  2. I’m with Karl on this. I prefer to embrace informed subjectivity in evaluation of student work. Striving for what you call “more objectivity” is a fool’s mission. Who needs a teacher for that? Buy a lap top. Informed subjectivity, what the late brilliant Stanford Professor Elliot Eisner called critical connoisseurship, looks at the teacher to evaluate student work as an art, music or food critic looks at their area of knowledge or their discipline of study. Hardly standardized. But much more valuable.

  3. Akivida,

    “Mr. Gabbey is incorrect when he says there is “nothing” objective about standardized testing.”

    Thank you for proving my point. Your assertion is a great example of subjectivity. Which part of a standardized test is “objective?”

    I’ll take a chance and prejudge. I have a feeling that you’re looking at standardized testing from a business perspective. Business somehow convinces itself and takes pride in being “cooly objective.” Since a significant number of Americans seem to put business and everyone associated with it on a pedestal, it’s easy to understand why members of the business “community” feel entitled to push their values, agenda, and methodologies on everyone else. Some would call that arrogance. This is nothing new in the annals of American business. The meddling of business in public education has become far more irksome and damaging since 1980 due to its imposition of “accountability” on steroids with the express purpose to undermine, dismantle, and privatize public education.

    I didn’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t strive to improve, period. I can’t agree that we should devote too much time to “strive for more objectivity.” You may think that “more objectivity” works in your career, but it has very definite limits in teaching. I wrestled with this issue for the first few years as a novice teacher, until I actually discovered that I was dealing with 100+ human beings each day who made “more objectivity” useless.

    “Total objectivity desirable?” How does that work? Have you ever received a welcomed break from someone when by all “objective” criteria you should have been left to your own devices?

  4. There is also nothing “standardized” about the current “standardized” testing. It is neither valid nor reliable. There is not oversight or quality control, either by the testing companies (Pear$on, in ILL-Annoy & in most other $tate$) or by federal, state or local education entities (e.g., IL State Board of Ed., U.S. Dept. of Ed.).
    akivida, “$tandardized” te$ting is a $cam, a $ham & a $hame. It$ ALL about the ka-ching…in Pear$on’$ pocket.
    All about the kids? Yeah, all about the kids’ SUFFERING.

  5. Oh, & BTW–read up on how these tests are scored & who (& what–reportedly, this is the year that Pear$on ha$ COMPUTERS scoring written responses, & that has proven to be REAL “objective” {& reliable!}) scores them. Read Todd Farley’s posts about that on Huffington Education &, while you’re at it, read his 2009 book, Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry. Not outdated at all, except for the fact (as he predicted) things have only gotten worse. Ka-ching Pear$on!
    Be sure to look for those big, color ads (coming soon!) for scorers (co$ting–taxpayer$–from about $2-$4K each– in the Sun-Times & The Trib. & papers all over the U.S.).
    Or you can just look on Craig’s List.

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