- During preparation for a workshop on educational policy
in 1982, I was asked by the host organization to prepare a glossary of
terms pertaining to my presentation. That request seemed simple enough
and a reasonable one, so I set about compiling terms related to CBE (Competency-Based
Education) (forerunner of Outcome-Based Education and promulgated by the
same man Bill Spady), our fad-of-the-moment in educational reformation
toward illiteracy in Georgia.
- As I said, the task seemed simple enough. However, while
still in the "A's" of the alphabet, I developed an overwhelming
respect for professional compilers of glossaries. The first word block
I encountered was "assessment". Sure it was familiar; we all
knew it meant 'test'; but the longer I struggled to apply that definition
to CBE the more elusive "assessment's" definition became.
- The latest word for 'test' was "instrument"
and that proved easy to explain. But, "assessment" was a broader
term, "assessment" was the noun form of the verb "assess".
What did "assess" actually mean? The National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP) had been in use since its development in the latter 1960's.
Had we overlooked a change in emphasis by the Federal level of education
implied by the use of the word "assessment" that could be significant?
- Receiving no help from my small hill of accumulated state
department of education materials relating to assessment, I decided to
"read the instruction manual": (Webster's New World Dictionary.)
Webster's clearly stated:
- "assess": 1. to set an estimated value on (property,
etc.) for taxation 2. to set the amount of (a tax, fine, damages, etc.)
3. to impose a fine, tax, or special payment on (a person or property)
4. to impose (an amount) as a fine, tax, etc. 5. to estimate or determine
the significance, importance, or value of; evaluate.
- "assessment": 1. the act of assessing 2.
the amount assessed.
- This definition disturbed me a little. I had assumed
that "assessment" was just the latest educationese for a broad-based
test. Had I missed something somewhere? To accomplish the task at hand
-- the glossary -- I crafted a definition that read like this:
- "Assessment: an estimation; determination of the
significance or value of. As used in education, a general term for measuring
student progress. Conflict in definition occurs when considering that this
is a measurement process that is used to determine the value or significance
of a particular outcome in educational performance. Therefore, it is not
a true measurement, but a process of assigning value to specific tasks,
creating a cumulative score for performance instead of an accurate measurement
against a standard."
- It sounded good at the time and spoke to the question
of "what are we testing?" which was a growing concern due to
the nature of Competency-Based Education's life role skills competencies,
which were going to dictate our educational goals -- just like "OBE"
does today. Even though satisfied to have introduced the idea that there
may be a conflict within the definition of "assessment" as an
educational term, I was bothered that I could find no definitions in other
dictionaries, including legal ones, which did not have primary meanings
related to assigning a value for tax purposes. "Assessment" is
primarily a legal term; in fact, the use of the word "instrument"
could carry a legal connotation as well. Disturbing.
- THE FEDERAL ACCOUNTING PROCESS
- In March of 1984 I had the privilege of giving testimony
supporting stringent regulations for the Pupil Privacy Act (the Hatch Amendment)
which amended the General Education Provisions Act to offer protection
from intrusive questioning, programs, and the record-keeping for parents
- Again, preparation for that testimony caused me to review
the National Center for Educational Statistics' handbook series known as
the "State Educational Records and Reports Series". Specifically,
Handbook IIR - the Financial Accounting Handbook - alluded to a "unified
accounting system" based on the process known as Planning, Programming
and Budgeting System (PPBS) which was to be used by all school systems.
PPBS involves mandated goals and constant adjustment of resources to ensure
that goals are met... the system that is still in use today. In testifying,
I drew a projected conclusion:
- If our financial resource reporting is going to be unified
by such a system, then are we not but a step away from unified goals for
our educational outcomes? This is assuredly a step toward mandated national
curriculum and interstate and interregional tax and financial management
revisions... will we not soon be sharing tax resources from region to region
as needed to `equalize' educational opportunities and programs deemed `exemplary`
or in the `national interest to produce global- minded citizens?'
- The longer I thought of "assessment" being
the "value determined for tax purposes" and the possibility of
cross-regional/state sharing of tax resources, the more concerned I became
over the idea that the record-keeping and information-compiling might become
so tied to the individual student that "assessment" might have
a more malignant potential. We were talking about our children here.
- At that point in time there was a growing emphasis on
choice and vouchers/tuition tax credits in education. Since with the money
flows the control, could this be part of the "assessment" picture?
That would tie an individual student moving about in the "choice market"
directly to a federal accounting process both financially and educationally
due to national standards being proposed. No one seemed to be too worried
about it in the 1980's, but it still bothered me.
- Over a period of time I shared my concern with close
associates -- if "assess" was to "assign a value for tax
purposes", then why were we "assessing" children? A theory
began to take root and grow in my mind: somehow we were going to allow
children's potential worth to society to be measured, and their future
life roles would somehow be measured, and their future life roles would
be somehow projected, and they would be limited by that assigned worth.
What a thought! Could this be possible in the United States [of America]?
- HUMAN CAPITAL DEFINED
- Later someone sent me pages from a book entitled Human
Capital and America's Future, edited by David W. Hornbeck and Lester M.
Salamon. The title itself set off alarm bells because of the connection
to education shared by many of the contributors, especially Hornbeck. It
was now the early 90's and many disturbing things were happening. David
Hornbeck was a highly visible change agent responsible for many radical
education reforms in states from Kentucky to Iowa and had been a consultant
to many more.
- Why was Hornbeck focusing on 'human capital'? That had
been primarily used in economic and commercial literature. Hornbeck was
also identified with changes in "assessment" in the school systems
with which he consulted and worked. The book was published by Johns Hopkins
University Press in 1991 and contains an enlightening list of contributors
in addition to Hornbeck: Ernest Boyer; Nancy Barrett; Anthony Carnavale;
Sheldon Danziger; Marian Wright Edelman; Scott Fosler; Daniel Greenberg;
Jason Jaffras; Arnold Packer; Isabel Sawhill; Marion Pines; Donald Stewart,
and Lester Salamon.
- The social and political views of "Human Capitol's"
line-up of contributors could be the basis of another whole article, but
suffice it to say that most of the radical changes toward a managed populus
in this country can be reflected among this group of individuals. Weren't
some of them involved in the dis-establishing of the U.S. Department of
Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) and turning it into the Department
- While references to "human capital" have been
the fare of business publications for some time, it has only been in the
last few years that this term applied to school children. In Hornbeck's
chapter in "Human Capital", 'New Paradigm for Action', he outlined
the systemic change which must occur to produce the workforce for the future
and fulfill our nation's 'human capital' needs. Hornbeck's "new paradigm
of action" looked a lot like old "OBE" -- setting specific
performance standards and invoking penalties for schools, teachers and
students not meeting them:
- "If the new comprehensive system is to be outcome-based,
careful attention must be paid to 'assessment' strategies. The selection
of outcome indicators will be informed by the availability of sound assessment
instruments." [emphasis added]
- Now here was Hornbeck using "assessment" and
"instrument" together instead of a substitute for one or the
other -- and he had selected the two terms which carried legal usage definitions.
Hornbeck asserted that while the NAEP might be universally available, and
portfolio "assessments" (notice the use of both words together)
would become popular, "the Educational Testing Service (ETS) is investing
time and funds in developing new approaches to assessment." He further
stated that while most of the present 'assessment' observations are "related
to academic objectives"...
- "Similar sensitivity is required in carefully defining
appropriate assessment tools in other areas as well. In citizenship...
a method should be developed for expressing qualitative aspects of participation
activities... a different 'value' could be placed on 'community service'...
physical and mental fitness... problems arise as we confront legal and
even constitutional issues (self-incrimination, search and seizure)...
Perhaps a school system should plan to have all students undergo a "physical
exam" in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades as a health counterpart
to the academic testing program. Again, the emphasis must be on carefully
determining assessment strategies that measure the outcomes to be achieved."
- All of this is structured because "incremental change
is insufficient. Systems must be radically altered to produce what the
nation's economy demands in a work force."
- Weren't we supposed to be concerned about the education
of school children? This sounded a lot like literature which proposed "full
employment" policies -- much like the billboards and signs plastered
on public transportation and public buildings in Grenada -- "Work
for everyone; everyone working!" -- before the U.S. invasion to overthrow
their communist government.
- Was this why the Council of Chief State School Officers
accepted a contract from the National Center for Educational Statistics
to develop what is known as the "SPEEDE ExPRESS? (The Exchange of
Permanent Records Electronically of Students and Schools.) This electronic
information track can carry the most diverse and extensive information
on a student, delivering it to future employers, places of higher education,
training centers, health providers (contraceptive histories will be included),
the military and a number of other recipients yet to be designated. Then
if employers, government and others have input into what should be the
outcome of education in this country -- instead of education being academically
and informational-based -- then the concept of "assessment as assigning
a value" to a child takes on proportions that are certainly Orwellian.
- What if your child's "assessed" worth doesn't
meet anyone's projected goal? Proponents of the Certificate of Initial
Mastery (CIM) and the Certificate of Advanced Mastery (CAM) are, in truth,
fleshing out the skeleton of assigning a value to a person. Without the
CIM/CAM in those states adopting the concept a young person will not be
able to apply for a job, drive a car, or do many other things which have
never before been predicated on governments' conferring a value on a person's
worth to society.
- The People's Republic of China, a communist country,
uses "no conformity" -- "no job" policies to enforce
its "one child" policy. Have we understood the direction of these
changes? Is this constitutional or moral?
- ASSESSING HUMAN VALUE
- The next piece to the puzzle of assessment fell into
place when my suspicions were confirmed that we really were assessing "value".
The August 1993 issue of "Visions", the newsletter of the Education
for the Future Initiative sponsored by Pacific Telesis Foundation, was
given out at a legislative committee meeting as part of a packet of information
on technology in the classroom and school-to-work transition activities.
The lead article was Beyond the Bubble with a blurb reading: "Educators
are finding that new ways of teaching require new forms of 'assessment'."
- On page three there was a column entitled 'Authentic
Definitions'. Finally, I thought, I have found an educational publication
that will define this word and allay my fears. Sure enough, there was the
word: "Assessment - The act or result of judging the 'worth' or 'value'
of something or 'someone'.
- The worth or value of something or someone?! This was
confirmation that educational testing had taken an extreme left turn. It
was not comforting to realize that our children were going to be assigned
a value based on "acceptable performance behaviors in life-role applications"
as proposed in PacTelesis Foundation's 'Authentic Definitions'.
- Knowing that
- 1) Our children would be tracked and that extensively
detailed would be electronically compiled and transmitted to select file-users;
- 2) Information would include or be based on a value level
assigned to them contingent upon performance - as a child - of life-role
- 3) Value levels could reflect the scale of achievement
outlined in the United States Labor Department's 1993 "Secretary's
Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills" [SCANS] -- which encompasses
personality traits and private preferences, and
- 4) The purpose of education has documentably been diverted
into workforce training, led me ultimately to the conclusion that indeed
the future holds a less than bright prospect for our young people. To be
formally assigned a "worth" to society based on your ability
as a child to demonstrate that you can perform an "essential skill"
should be a foreign concept in a constitutional republic like the one in
which we live -- these United States of America.
- An example of how these efforts at "assessment"
have been perverted to the ends outlined above is given in "Crucial
Issues In Testing", edited by Ralph W. Tyler and Richard M. Wolf.
This book is one in a series prepared under the auspices of the National
Society for the Study of Education, which in 1974 included names like William
Spady, John Goodlad, and Robert Havighurst on its governing committee.
- On page 98, within an article by Carmen J. Finley (of
the American Institute for Research) is a section entitled "Defining
Goals versus Comparison With an Average:"
- "In the National Assessment program specific objectives
or goals are defined and exercises are written which determine how well
these goals are being met. For example, in citizenship a major objective
is to `Support Rights and Freedoms of All Individuals.' One specific way
in which a person might meet this goal is to defend the right of a person
with very unpopular views to express his opinion and support the right
of `extreme' (political or religious) groups to express their views in
- One exercise which was written to try to tell whether
or not this objective was being met is as follows:
- "Below are three statements which make some people
angry. Mark each statement as to whether you think a person on radio or
TV should or should not be allowed to make these statements: * = Russia
is better than the United States. * = Some races of people are better than
others. * = It is not necessary to believe in God."
- This is the goal-oriented approach. The objectives or
goals represent a kind of standard which is considered desirable to achieve.
The exercises, if they are good measures, tell to what extent the goals
are being achieved. This approach tells very specifically what a person
knows or can do.
- I submit that the goals-oriented/performance-based /OBE/assessment
approach just outlined tells more than what a child knows or can do. This
approach very specifically reveals what a child feels and believes. Remember
that "assessments" measure toward predetermined outcomes. Those
outcomes represent the judged "worth" or "value" of
your children and mine!
- With the last election cycle hope swept the country that
a conservative majority had exerted itself; changes would be made. As a
country we'd be snatched from the brink of economic socialism and potential
corporate fascism; and sanity would be restored to the halls of government.
- WHEN RIGHT IS LEFT
- It just happens that the October 1992 edition of Visions
(PacTelesis Foundation newsletter) contained an article entitled "Why
Technology?" It began,
- "Alvin Toffler, the author of such influential books
as "Future Shock" and "The Third Wave", has written
that the spread of personal computers is the single most important change
in the field of knowledge since the invention of movable type in the 15th
century. He goes on to state that knowledge is the key to power in the
21st century -- not mineral rights or military force."
- This was the same publication that carried the definitive
definition of "assessment". And wasn't this the same Alvin Toffler
who wrote "Creating A New American Civilization", which heralds
the coming third wave of global culture, published by the Progress and
Freedom Foundation and introduced at their 'Cyberspace and the New American
Dream' conference in Atlanta last year?
- Newt Gingrich, the new Speaker of the House, introduced
Toffler as his longtime friend and then sat quietly by to hear Toffler
say that national sovereignty was a thing of the past and that he was an
avowed secularist. These are the stripes of our new "conservative"
- At the same Cyberspace conference, an array of professionals
from many areas of cultural life paraded their contributions to leadership
toward the much-touted Third Wave. The spokesperson for education in Progress
and Freedom Foundation's lineup was -- and still is -- Lewis J. Perelman,
author of "School's Out: A Radical New Formula for the Revitalization
of America's Educational System". Perelman advocates what he calls
just-in-time learning, privatized public schools, total quality applications,
hyperlearning, and many other catchy concepts which are now, of course,
getting much attention in the policy debate.
- It should be noted that in the Preface to his book Perelman
cites Wassily Leontief and B.F. Skinner among those from whom he particularly
benefited during his years at Harvard in the 70's. Most interesting since
Leontief is the acknowledged expert on management by objectives (MBO) --
the forerunner and companion to PPBS. And Skinner was the American father
of behavioral psychology, and mastery learning/operant conditioning --
the foundation for OBE.
- These relationships of Perelman's are important because
he supplied the connecting piece to complete the puzzle picture of our
children's future. Perelman states on page 316 that. . .
- "Nostalgic mythology about `local control' should
not mask the reality that the state governments have the constitutional
authority, call the shots, and pay most of the bill for education. But
government, local or otherwise, no longer needs to own and operate school
systems or academic institutions."
- TAXING HUMAN WORTH
- Now, to the heart of Perelman's alternative proposal
which forms the future of "conservative" educational policy and
expresses "assessment's" future use:
- "One possibility would be a 'human capital tax'.
The human capital tax might be simply the same as a personal income tax,
or might be calculated or ear-marked in a more limited way. Technicalities
aside, it's logical that if the government is going to help fund investments
in the development of the community's human capital, taking back a share
of the resulting gains is a good way to pay for it. In effect, each generation
of beneficiaries of such investment pays back some of the benefits it received
to the next generation" [value-added tax, ed.] (p. 317)
- "We should deal with parents who are 'starving their
children's minds' with the same legal remedies we use to deal with parents
who are starving their children's bodies. The... media through which a
microchoice [voucher] system is provided will give public authorities more
accurate information on what individual families and kids are doing than
is currently available, making it easier to identify instances of negligence
or misuse." (page 318 [emphasis added]
- "...there's no good reason why the learner should
not be able to purchase services or products from any provider -- whether
public or private, in-state or out-of-state." (p. 319)
- A VALUE ADDED TAX FOR HUMAN WORTH
- There is the framework. A value-added tax process that
will "deduct" from a services/education super-voucher a tax for
every level of achievement/skill a student achieves -- true 'assessment'.
Standards will be rigid and penalties for non-achievement will be enforceable
against the student, his parents, and providers of educational services
in order to achieve a trained workforce."
- The implications for families being disrupted by accusations
and prosecutions for Perelman's implied abuse and neglect over "parental
starving of children's minds" are startling in their flagrancy. An
elaborate and accurate system will track families and students, leaving
privacy and confidentiality in the dust. The tax/voucher will follow the
student across state and regional boundaries, necessitating a reformulation
of tax bases; this could even be extended to foreign sources -- Facilitated
by choice and charter school initiatives. (Remember Toffler asserts that
national sovereignty is or will soon be a thing of the past. And what about
GATT's education provision?)
- The World Bank has just announced (Associated Press,
"The Des Moines Register", 9/15/95) its new formula for estimating
a nation's worth. Ismael Serageldin, World Bank vice president for environmentally
sustainable development, stated in 'Monitoring Environmental Progress:
A Report on Work in Progress' that the system "for the first time
folds a country's people and its natural resources into its overall balance
- While the World Bank projects that its new system of
measuring wealth which "attempts to go beyond traditional gauges"
and lists "Human Resources: value represented by people's productive
capacity" (e.g. education, nutrition) will take years to perfect,
I submit that our process of 'assessment' is a giant step in that direction.
- I am reminded that in May of 1984 the "Washington
Post" published an article entitled "Industrial Policy Urged
for GOP." The Institute for Contemporary Studies, "founded by
Edwin Meese, Caspar Weinberger and other Reagan Supporters", issued
a report that advocated "Republicans shed some of their deep-rooted
antipathy to a planned economy." All signals seem to point to the
fact that this has indeed happened.
- Somewhere in all of this is lost the ability to communicate
our culture in an organized way and to teach basic skills that can be used
whether cyberspace technology is available or not. Didn't we used to call
this "education"? Didn't we believe that our children had some
choice in their futures?
- When is 'assessment' really 'assessment'? Ernest Boyer,
former Director of the Office of Education and Carnegie Foundation director,
once said, "To be fully human one must serve
- In the future to be fully assessed may mean our Children's
worth as a "servant" of the state will be "assigned a value
for tax purposes."
- America, where are you?