Column: Standardized testing promotes broken system

Jeffrey D. Robinson

There is a problem with standardized testing in urban school districts: Nobody knows what the children are being tested for. The problem is that the standardized test given to the mostly black and brown children who attend these mostly public districts don’t help the children learn, but in many cases prevent learning.

Standardized testing has become one of the main gauges used by states to make decisions about K-12 public education across the country. A countless number of standardized tests have been created by states in accordance with a countless number of educational standards that very few people seem to be able to agree on. Adding to this confusion is the fact that despite the disagreement about the tests and the information they provide they are used to make biased assumptions about children and schools that often times have nothing at all to do with education.

K-12 education in public urban school districts is frequently underfunded and used in the pursuit of political agendas that do not make educating children their primary goal. The prospect of quality education has been used to make hollow, empty promises to children and families that have only served to tear down communities as opposed to building them up.

While poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy often plague urban spaces, public education has traditionally been the elevator or equalizer that has assisted children in becoming responsible productive citizens that transform those spaces.

It would seem that decisions about public education would be made to improve it, but this has not been the case. Instead standardized test scores have been used to attack public education, pillage its finances, destroy its infrastructure, and set aside the democracy that represented the people’s voice in the type of school system they want for their children.

Standardized test scores have been erroneously used to criticize black and brown urban school districts, their teachers, parents, and unions, for their alleged failure to educate children. Radical reform-based legislation allowing for the redistributions of public money to charter schools is used to promote charters as viable alternatives to public education that are unfounded and unproven. When all factors are examined honestly, what you find is that when compared to the public-school systems in urban districts, there have been very few charter schools or supposed educational reform measures that have outperformed the urban public systems at scale. When critically looking at education in urban districts it has been the educational reform measures and the proliferation of low-performing charter schools that have contributed to low student achievement that standardized test scores highlight.

What then is the goal and purpose of an educational system that does not fulfill its primary responsibility to children? What good are test scores that don’t accurately represent the real status of the education children receive and do absolutely nothing to enact support and growth in such a vital area of our society?

Schools in some cases are identified as prison pipelines, the communities that these schools are located in are described as ghettos and associated with high crime, but it has been the deterioration of support for public education that is in part responsible for the proliferation of these negative demographics. At one time, America was hailed around the world for the attributes of it public school system, but now the country finds itself near the bottom of the list when compared with other industrialized nations. When taking the standardized test scores of America’s elite K-12 institutions, they are mediocre at best when compared to other nations.

Why then should parents continue to allow their children to be subjected to standardized testing that only promotes broken systems that no one seems intent on fixing? Why then should standardized test continue to be administered to children in urban school districts when no one knows what the children we are being tested for?

Jeffery D. Robinson, Ph.D., is chairman of the board of directors for Detroit Parent Network.

Fixing Michigan’s schools

This is part of a series of editorials and commentaries this school year exploring ideas for improving our state’s schools. Follow along at detroitnews.com/opinion.