- President Bush's education initiative calls for the
of every student in the nation, but these 'assessments' in the past
Big Brother-style psychological profiling.
- The proponents of President George W. Bush's education
initiative, called "No Child Left Behind," believe that they
can make schools accountable to parents as well as taxpayers. The
of this, as it appears in the amendments to the Elementary and Secondary
School Act, still in House-Senate conference as Insight goes to press,
is a massive nationwide program designed to test every student in grades
three to eight in reading and math. Both House and Senate bills propose
some $400 million in federal funds to be sent to the states to devise and
administer the tests on a state-by-state basis.
- By giving tax money to each state to devise its own
supporters hope to mollify conservatives on the one hand, who fear national
indoctrination by the U.S. Department of Education, and liberals on the
other, who dread the consequences of holding educators personally
for whether the children they teach actually learn. The language of the
House bill, HR1, for example, states in an unresolved contradiction that
each state shall demonstrate that it has adopted "challenging academic
standards and challenging academic-achievement standards." In the
same breath, the bill says that "a state shall not be required to
submit such standards to the Secretary."
- The problem is that "academic standards" as
defined by common sense and by lawmakers tend to be meaningless when
by educators. The bill calls for "challenging academic-content
in academic subjects that specify what children are expected to know and
be able to do" and contain "coherent and rigorous content and
encourage the teaching of advanced skills." Yet both House and Senate
bills shy away from using the term "tests" and substitute the
edu-speak word "assessments."
- The reason is that public education during the last 30
years has tended against testing for knowledge of content, instead
a psychological assessment of a child's needs, background and ability to
conform to the group. A "test" is an objective measure of a
ability to solve a problem; an "assessment" is a social
speculation about the environmental conditioning of the child.
- Thus the "assessment" of a child's ability
to read or to do math in the current testing already in use has more to
do with probing the child's psyche and teaching him or her to conform to
group values than with testing ability to add two plus two. The leading
educational experts will read the bill's language as a license to invade
the privacy of every child in the country rather than hold failing schools
accountable. And since the bill necessarily honors the principle of local
control, it is likely the local educational bureaucracies doing the
will welcome the bill as a $400 million slush fund to do exactly what they
have been doing to thwart educational reform.
- The trouble with school tests begins with the increasing
inclusion of sophisticated "behavioral" components that encompass
a wide variety of lifestyle and opinion data, nailing down student
social attitudes and parent-inculcated worldviews. Combined with the
of "health" (sex and drug) surveys, mental-health screenings,
diary/journal-keeping and other miscellaneous questionnaires - mostly
place in the classroom under cover of academics - testing has become more
equated with personality inventories than proficiency exams. In that
what passes for testing even may undermine the accountability President
- The case against standardized tests hinges on the quantum
leap in data-gathering, cross-matching and information-sharing
with all the accompanying problems associated with data-trafficking,
of privacy and consumer profiling. Barely a week goes by that a publication
somewhere doesn't carry a story detailing a new affront to what used to
be considered "nobody's business."
- One of the earliest examples of psychological
under the cover of academics occurred in the pivotal 1980s, when enormous
breakthroughs in computer technology were being piloted with federal funds
in selected localities. One of those was in Allegheny County, Pa.,
under the eight-state Cooperative Accountability Project. A handful of
parents - among them, Gen Yvette Sutton, Anita Hoge and Francine D'Alonzo
- got wind of a standardized academic test "no one could possibly
study for" being disseminated in the McGuffey School District: the
Educational Quality Assessment (EQA). After several unsuccessful attempts
to gain access, a trip to the state education agency in Harrisburg finally
yielded the facts. Not only did more than one-half the questions not relate
to factual knowledge, but numerical codes next to the questions as printed
on the administrative version of the test turned out to correlate with
specific "remediating" curricula. It included questions such
- I get upset easily at home:
[a] very true of me;
[b] mostly true of me;
[c] mostly untrue of me;
[d] very untrue of me.
- You are asked to dinner at the home of a classmate
having a religion much different from yours. In this situation I would
[a] very comfortable;
[c] slightly uncomfortable;
[d] very uncomfortable.
- There is a secret club at school called the Midnight
Artists. They go out late at night and paint funny sayings and pictures
on buildings. I would JOIN THE CLUB when I knew
[a] my best friend had asked me to join;
[b] most of the popular students in school were in the club;
[c] my parents would ground me if they found out I joined."
- This last question, in particular, got parents'
It presumes that the child will join the club under some circumstances,
including the desire to provoke parents. They thought the question more
or less asked: "How can we get this kid to vandalize
- The EQA had 375 questions covering attitudes, worldviews
and opinions - mostly hypothetical situations and self-reports. There were
30 questions on math and another 30 covering verbal analogies - just enough
academic questions to appear credible.
- Every such test is distributed with professional
for the educators - which is strictly off-limits to the parents. The EQA
told educators it was testing for: the student's "locus of
his "willingness to receive stimuli," his "amenability to
change" and whether he would "conform to group goals." In
lay terms, these translate to: Where's the child coming from? Is he easily
influenced? Are his views firm or flexible? Is he a team player who will
accede to group consensus? Choice "b," then, was the preferred
response to the Midnight Artists question because it reflects a willingness
to "conform to group goals."
- Today, such testing is more sophisticated. A fascinating
aspect of a recent Michigan Assessment, for example, was that regardless
of the section - reading, science, geography - the questions all sounded
like social studies. For example, there was nothing about topography in
the geography section; it covered "global issues" -
colonial victimization and redistribution of resources to Third World
The writing-sample topic? "Coping With Change."
- Five science questions for fifth-graders concerned
child fingerprinting, but involved no science. The multiple choices, even
the "incorrect" ones, seemed more like endorsements than
"fingerprinting doesn't hurt," "lost children can be
etc. Not a single "down side" was offered. The one question that
sounded like a question was so simple that one could reasonably have asked
whether this were the reading or the science section: "Fingerprinting
is MOST useful in which of the following jobs: [a] police work, to help
in crime fighting; [b] window washing, to help clean windows; [c] auto
mechanics, to help cars run better; [d] teaching, to help kids learn to
- Task I from the history section - on women in combat
- was "Interpreting Information." Prefaced in small print was,
"Directions: Read the following hypothetical information about a
policy issue. Use it with what you already know to complete the tasks that
- Parent activists Deborah DeBacker of Troy, Mich., and
Joan Grindel of Bloomfield, Mich., say it's doubtful fifth-graders either
understood or acted upon the term "hypothetical." In any case,
the only interpretation one could draw from the data provided is that women
should be in combat. Despite assurances in the essay instructions that
the student's views per se don't matter, it's clear that any view not
by those "hypothetical facts" in the data section will be judged
insufficient to warrant a top grade. In the example, testers actually begin
the paragraph for the pupil: "I think that women members of the
should definitely be allowed to participate ."
- Questionnaires, curricula and activities that target
the belief system are called "affective devices." Psychology
texts describe the belief system as made up of attitudes, values and
existing below the level of conscious awareness. Affective means
"dealing with emotions and feelings" rather than the intellect.
Using affective-questioning techniques makes it easier to test the
belief system. Some go so far as to test for "psychological
The teacher's guide to Pennsylvania's 1986 citizenship curriculum defined
this threshold as "the severity of stimulus tolerated before a change
of behavior occurs." The manual explained that "it is possible
to assess not only the students' predisposition [toward certain reactions]
but also to provide some measure of the intensity of that predisposition
across a wide spectrum of situations."
- Some profiling instruments are explicit and blatant,
such as Pennsylvania's and Michigan's, while others are more subtle. Most
states label them "assessments" rather than "tests,"
further confusing the issue for parents. Regardless of the label, opponents
claim that personality testing in the context of an academic setting, and
the psychotherapeutic sales packages (curricula) that typically ensue,
portend a high-tech threat not only to privacy but to a child's future
employability and freedom of conscience.
- Then there are the student-identification methods applied
to "confidential" tests and surveys the testers say are not
identifiable." This doesn't mean, however, that students are not
identified." Confused? The National Center for Education Statistics
1993 Field Restricted Use Data Procedures Manual explains this semantic
sleight of hand. Techniques range from simple bar-coding and
to more-complicated exercises such as "sticky-labeling" and
- To the testers, however, the term
means "need to know." The "confidential" label casually
applied by officials to modern testing and survey devices invariably is
taken for anonymity, thereby masking the fact that: (l) higher scores are
accorded "preferred" viewpoints, (2) curriculum is modified and
targeted to specific groups of children to correct
attitudes and, more ominously, (3) certain views that once were considered
"principled" now are deemed "rigid" and associated
with mental illness or psychological defects.
- Among the at-risk "indicators" are viewpoints
and behaviors deemed by the testers to be what they call "indicative
of a rigid or underdeveloped belief system." Pupils are referred to
psychologists for "remediation" to render their attitudes and
responses more "realistic." Several professional papers,
with the acclaimed 1969 Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project
place "firm religious belief" in the "rigid/inflexible"
category. BSTEP also projected a world "so saturated with ideas and
information [by the 1990s that] few will be able to maintain control over
- So far is all this testing and evaluation from
that today's burgeoning computer cross-matching capability of public and
private records has launched an information industry of data traffickers
and information brokers. Some are licit and others black-market, but they
cater to the needs of employers, credit bureaus, universities, corporate
spies and government agencies.
- Of course, evidence of serious peril to our American
presumption of "personal affairs" was being debated among
educators as far back as 1969, when Wolcott Beatty wrote his seminal work,
Improving Educational Assessment and an Inventory of Measures of Affective
Behavior. Dozens of related publications followed, documenting a slippery
slope from conceptual design of a test that would evaluate and compare
effectiveness of learning programs to a federal-funding carrot that would
ensure massive personal-data collection with automatic-transfer capability
to federal and international databases.
- In 1970, L.J. Chronbach's Essentials of Scientific
sounded the first alarm: "Coding of records is not a full safeguard.
Identity can be detected by matching facts from the coded questionnaire
with other facts that are openly recorded."
- By that time Dustin Heuston of the renowned World
of Computer-Assisted Technology (WICAT) in Utah uttered his prophetic
"We've been staggered by realizing that the computer has the
to act as if it were 10 of the top psychologists working with one student.
Won't it be wonderful when no one can get between that child and that
curriculum?" Behavioral-science gurus Richard Wolf (Teachers College,
Columbia University) and his colleague, Ralph Tyler, openly were advocating
a need for surreptitious methods of data collection and student
as early as 1974 in their coedited book, Crucial Issues in Testing. They
called for unified coding and standardized definitions to enhance
and data-sharing - from elementary schools on into the workplace.
- Wolf supported "the permissibility of
in school-testing based on "the rights of an institution to obtain
information necessary to achieve its goals." He stated that, danger
or not, there "are occasions in which the test constructor [finds
it necessary] to outwit the subject so that he cannot guess what
he is revealing. From the constructor's point of view this is necessary
since he wishes to ascertain information that the individual might not
furnish if it were sought directly. A number of personality tests fall
into this category."
- Despite admonitions, the lure of computerized
proved too enticing. In 1981, the first education databanks were launched:
the Common Core of Data, the Universe Files and the Longitudinal Studies.
In what is perhaps the most evidential document on the subject,
the Quality of Education" by Willard Wirtz and Archie LaPointe, the
writers outline the U.S. Education Department's (ED's) intention to ignore
the legal and ethical warnings against privacy invasion:
- "Getting into the students' personal characteristics
and situations invariably prompts warnings that the NAEP [National
of Educational Programs] purpose is not to analyze human development, and
injunctions against confusing the measurement of educational results
and the analysis of cause (inputs). But it is being recognized increasingly
that the measurement of achievement is incomplete without the accompanying
identification of whatever educational circumstances may affect these
- More prophetically, Wirtz and LaPointe wrote: "A
different kind of assessment would help correct the tilt in the
concept toward functional literacy and away from excellence."
- Direct education away from excellence? That's right.
The authors detailed how a clearinghouse-style database incorporating
and psychological-profiling data would help steer schools toward what these
"experts" deemed a more realistic ideal: mere functional
- Policymakers at the ED quickly moved to shelve concerns
about student and family privacy. For example, James P. Shaver wrote a
detailed monograph, National Assessment of Values and Attitudes for Social
Studies, published through the Office of Educational Research and
(OERI), a division of the U.S. Department of Education. But by then there
was no need to hide intent because OERI already had brought in four
experts from Utah's WICAT to prepare a working paper for the first
- In 1986, "A Plan for the Redesign of the Elementary
and Secondary Data Collection Program" was finalized, incorporating
attitudinal, lifestyle and value information. It fell to the federally
funded Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to ensure
compatibility of computer systems and promote collection of data at the
local level. In a 1985 speech, CCSSO Director Ramsey Seldon placed
of educational assessment and evaluation" on the highest priority,
promoting the exchange of information about private citizens and their
children in the name of comparing educational achievement.
- Today, the three original education databases are part
of a mammoth data-tracking/sharing system called the SPEEDE/ExPRESS. Among
other capabilities, data can be transmitted to universities and prospective
employers via WORKLINK, a system set up by the Educational Testing
- In 1988, the National Center for Education Statistics
named 29 organizations, some with no clear ties to education, that were
given automatic access to national assessment data -among them the Census
Bureau, the office of the Montana State Attorney General, the Rand Corp.
and the Economic Policy Institute. Then technology took another quantum
leap - more storage capability in less space, ultrasophisticated search
engines, intricate cross-matching methods.
- And critics of all this are saying that puts President
Bush's national-testing initiative in a different light. And it cuts left
and right. After all, if one faction can target a child's belief system
and keep records, so can another.
- The basic dilemmas remain: If the use of psychographic
instruments is legal and ethical, without informed, written, parental
if behavior-modification curricula can be brought into the classroom as
legitimate learning material; if teachers, or even bona fide mental-health
workers, can use the schools to "treat" youngsters for real or
imagined psychological problems - then are schools really educational
or day-care clinics?
- B.K. Eakman, a former teacher and executive director
of the National Education Consortium, is the author of Cloning of the
Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education.
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