I was watching the documentary about the Varsity Blues Scandal and I'm not sure the I like their conclusions. The problem is not standardized testing. The problem is what standardized testing has become.
I like to think about it from the employer's perspective. If someone graduates from high school, what does that mean? What does that tell me? The fact that I cannot really answer that question very well is problematic because I hire employees and I set a bar for a high school education. All I am really saying is that I don't want a high school dropout.
One of the ideas behind standardized testing is to at least set a standard for what every 12th grader ought to know (or know how to do). But we have very perverse incentives to get the kids through the 12 years and get their high school diploma when we aren't even clear about what that means anymore. Are they still learning the skills that are associated with high school? Are they still making the same indication to society and can an employer still make the same assumptions or have the same expectations if they hire somebody with a high school diploma?
Obviously, the same thing applies with colleges in the various majors. There are certain fields to do this much better than others. Again, when you think about medicine, the mistakes are obvious and therefore they have higher standards because they need them.
When you look at technology, a company like Cisco has had to define what it means to be certified in working with their networking equipment because you cannot rely on a college degree, even a computer science degree, and make assumptions about what it is that they can do.
I guess what I'm getting down to is that I don't know why we cannot have standards at every high school. And if you want incentives, then you provide the schooling until they pass the test. We have to get rid of age-based expectations.
Finally, somewhere we have to account for the fact that we forget things over time. Therefore, should we be re-certified in algebra and geometry? That would certainly change the curriculum and the expectations. Cramming for the tests would no longer work, and people would retain their skills for much longer and give those skills the opportunity to synthesize with other skills, which represents the kind of abilities that we will need in the future as more of the “dumb jobs” get automated.