John Merrow’s Idea to Rid Schools of Standardized Tests is Compelling and Saves Millions of Dollars!

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Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday that was click-bait. It was titled “If you could could make one change…“, the titled derived from a question John Merrow asked some dinner guests, which was this:

If YOU had the power to make ONE major change in American public education immediately, what would you choose to do?”

In Mr. Merrow’s post that posed this question his dinner guest gave responses like doubling spending on public schools, making spending more equitable, expanding early childhood programs, and a commitment to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And what was Mr. Merrow’s response?

At that point everyone turned to me, and, even though I am much more comfortable asking questions than answering them, I plunged ahead. “I would eliminate standardized testing.”

Everyone seemed shocked.  Including me.  Never before had I expressed that thought. To the contrary, like most critics of testing…

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2 thoughts on “John Merrow’s Idea to Rid Schools of Standardized Tests is Compelling and Saves Millions of Dollars!

  1. Hi John. Glad you’re still in the fight!

    Eliminating standardized testing would be a good step, but it is only a part of a larger step we should take, which is ELIMINATE RANKING of almost any kind. Ranking is what is destructive in most instances–it is what drives kids to stress and suicide. Standardized testing is only one particularly nasty implementation we have devised.

    In terms of evaluation, in almost every non-trivial case we need only three categories: OK, Exceptional, and Not there yet — my elementary school report cards did this (S-O-N) and so did Harvard Business School (Sat, High Pass, Low Pass) when I went there. Trying to establish and implement more than those three categories is an unnecessary and destructive waste of time and resources. All the smart business thinkers I know agree—what business ranks their people in numerical order, other than by when they joined (or perhaps their their easily measurable sales figures).

    What needs to replace ranking is UNIQUENESS. This is better for many reasons, including, for starters, that everyone IS unique—particularly in their personal combination of what issues and problems they care about in their world, what strengths they have to address them, and what they love to do. How much better off would our kids be if we focused on helping our kids with understanding their particular uniqueness and connecting it to future possibilities, rather than our trying to accurately rank them against their peers in various stressful ways (accurate raking is almost certainly an impossible task in non-trivial situations).

    Helping kids identify and usefully apply their uniqueness is also the only hedge kids have against the coming automation, because it is increasingly the case that “anything that two people can do equally well will likely be automated in their lifetime.” If an employer says “I want education reporting,” a machine can do that, even today. But if someone says “I want the unique POV and style of John Merrow”, I believe that won’t—at least for quite some time—be replaceable by a machine!

    Love your reactions.

    Marc Prensky


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