Maybe national bubble-fill standardized testing is a logical outcome of an educational system that divides students by age, divides knowledge into discrete subjects, divides the subjects further into discrete courses, and divides the courses further into monthly and weekly and daily and hourly goals. Regardless of child, teacher, circumstance, anything: this is what all shall learn, this is when all shall learn it, this is how all shall learn it, and this is how long it shall take. By the time students are 18, they shall have learned all the necessary things, and they can get a certificate that proves they learned it all and allows them to stop learning now. (Unless a student spent fewer than 180 days per year learning it. That would yield an “incomplete” and require extra classes before they can get their certificate, even if the student learned the same things everybody else did. If they didn’t spend the right number of days learning it, it doesn’t count.) (In fact, if a student misses too many days, they don’t just get an “incomplete,” they or their parents can go to jail! To jail! For missing the part about what’s a circumference and what’s a diameter! Whoa.)
The system gives the illusion of controlled education — the illusion of control over educational inputs and outcomes, right down to the exact number of days it should take each and every student to learn each and every thing. Perhaps it makes sense that the results of such a system should be measured by a test that gives the illusion of controlled assessment.
Nobody likes these big standardized tests. Nobody likes that they are compulsory (like school itself is) and that they are not designed by the users (like school) and that they cause stress and control people’s schedules (like school) and that they can determine people’s fates and careers and lives (like school). Everybody from teachers to students to administrators agree that these tests measure random and even silly bits of knowledge and arbitrary skills, and poorly, and that they take too much time and do more harm than good. But maybe the problem is not actually the standardized tests. Maybe the tests are merely a symptom or logical extension of the real problem: the very system they purport to measure.