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

Standardised tests neglect 21st Century skills

This post is part of a series I’m doing that problematises the obsession of governments all over the world with standardised tests. Now, I’m not silly and I get that they serve a purpose. In particular, standardisd tests allow governments to tick and flick good school practices, name and shame bad schools, and gives them a way to prove they’re doing something in the rather nebulous world of schooling where what actually works and what’s important may be unmeasurable. In addition, I suspect they’re part of a neo-liberal agenda to privitise everything, even those things that can’t really make a profit and, thus, are difficult to privatise.

In their work that problematises standardised tests, in particular NAPLAN, Klenwoski and Wyatt-Smith (2012) state that these tests “draw attention to the exclusion in testing practice of twenty-first-century skills, including working in teams and online to use and create knowledge” (p. 74).  They do not test these so-called 21st century skills, perhaps because it is impossible with a print-based test. In fact, as Kohn (2000) notes, the nature of the test requires quiet and self/individual work, so to work in teams or to collaborate would be an anathema to the testing process. However, this failure to do so privileges “the almost pathological competitiveness of our culture” where we “regard others as obstacles to our own success” (Kohn, 2000, p. 15). Kohn quotes Bill Ayers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, who argues:

Standardized tests can’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, content knowledge, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning.

(Kohn, 2000, p. 15)

And, to this list, I’d add, team skills, content creation, clarity of expression, research skills and knowledge creation.

These are all reasons why standardised tests are bad educational practice and, while they’ll likely always be with us, they should be used sparingly and their findings should be considered to be limited, at best.


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