Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Standardised testing privileges basic skills over higher order thinking

As part of the current series I’m doing about standardised testing, I’ve been doing a lot of reading of Alfie Kohn’s work. In his book, The Case Against Standardized Testing, Kohn quotes from an education professor at Indiana University named Roger Farr. Farr is quoted as saying “I don’t think there’s any way to build a multiple choice question that allows students to show what they can do with what they know” (Kohn, 2000, p. 18). That failure to demonstrate the ability to use knowledge constructively is the major failing of standardised tests. The focus on know, rather than do, shows how these tests privilege basic skills, repeating/regurgitating information, over higher order thinking. Similarly, Klenowski and Wyatt Smith (2012) argue that the problem is the dependency on printed materials because of the limitations of what they can do. These tests can’t test what students can do with what they know, rely on straight rote learning and deliver to students and parents the dangerous message that “because there is a premium placed on remembering facts, children come to think that this is what really matters” which, Kohn argues, “may lead to a ‘quiz show’ view of intelligence that confuses being smart with knowing a lot of stuff” (Kohn, 2000, p. 18).


3 Responses to “Standardised testing privileges basic skills over higher order thinking”

    • Rebecca English

      I should add, I think it’s worse than mediocrity, I think it’s the mendacity of bureaucrats telling us they can measure learning through assessment.


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