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MSU professor’s book criticizes use of standardized testing

Daniel Conn, an associate professor of education at Minot State University, thinks there must be a better way for schools to measure a student’s educational progress than standardized testing.

Conn and co-authors Michelle Tenam-Zemach and Paul Parkison just published “Unraveling the Assessment Industrial Complex: Understanding How Testing Perpetuates Inequity and Injustice in America,” published last month by Routledge and with an introduction by David Stovall.

In the book they argue that the standardized tests, often produced by for-profit companies, have dictated the subject matter taught in schools and left less time and less funding for other material that isn’t on those tests, such as arts and humanities and other subjects that add to the joy of learning. One chapter in the book notes that some school districts across the country have cut services such as the school nurse and funding for programs like physical education, art and music to direct more funding toward standardized testing.

The number of standardized tests that students are required to take each year have greatly increased over the past decade, according to the book.

Stakes are also higher for teachers and school systems because teachers’ job performances are assessed in part on how their students do on these tests, and funding has been allocated to school systems based on test scores.

“Who gets to decide what we learn?” asked Conn, who said he isn’t saying that assessments aren’t needed at all but there is a problem with standardized tests produced by for-profit companies.

The authors also make the argument that standardized testing as it currently exists originated from a system that is fundamentally racist and, as it currently exists, has perpetuated income inequality.

For example, student admission to colleges, a step on the path to students’ future careers, has been based in part on scores on a college entrance exam like the SAT or ACT.

Though proponents say the testing is intended to improve educational outcomes for kids, Conn said the United States has actually lost ground educationally to students in other countries in the decades since there has been so much emphasis on testing.

Conn, who is also program director for the Master of Education program at MSU, was recently awarded the MSU Board of Regents Achievement Award for his scholarship. He has also received other awards. He has a weekly podcast with a co-host called EDHeads on the Good Talk Radio Network. More information is available at http://www.edheads2.com/. He is also a founding member of the nonprofit dreamBIG Green Schools, and one of his interests is promoting alternative methods of assessment.

Conn said he believes his recently published book also will be of interest to lay people, including parents, as well as to academics.

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