Where Does Mitt Romney Really Stand on Standardized Testing?

Romney doesn't know of a better way to evaluate students than high stakes tests.

You'd expect the man who could very well be the next leader of the free world, Governor Mitt Romney, to have a solid answer to a question about the trend of high-stakes testing. It costs school districts billions of dollars, and results in teaching to the test and the killing of creativity. Unfortunately, at the recent Education Nation summit when I asked Romney about how he’d change the way testing is used in our schools, he didn't come close to meeting that expectation.

As you can see in the video above, Romney told me that in my life I would find that there are many tests. I would have loved to fire back with, “Mr. Romney, how many high stakes tests have you taken since you graduated from Harvard Business School?” Most likely none.

He also admitted he didn't know a better way to evaluate students other than the current testing model. One could believe this is yet another gaffe by the former governor, but it doesn't seem like it. We can now confirm that Romney supports the high-stakes testing regime.

To set the record straight, I don't support tests, but rather assessments. Yes, there's a big difference. As education thinker Ruth Mitchell defines it, "A test is a single occasion, unidimensional, timed exercise, usually in multiple choice or short answer form. Assessment is an activity that can take many forms, can extend over time, and aims to capture the quality of a student's work or of an educational program." Whether you call them authentic, performance, or portfolio-based assessments, many are rooted in 21st century skills and real-world tasks. The College and Work Readiness Assessment and iSkills exam are renowned examples.

Next, Romney went on to gloat at the fact that he passed his high school graduation exam and said that as governor he added more subjects for students to be tested in: calculus, biology, and geology.

For most students, learning these subjects is an utter waste of time. Take calculus. Unless you're in a field deep in mathematics, the likelihood that you will need this subject outside of school is slim to none. What kids need to learn should be obvious—solving problems, becoming globally aware, life-long learners, communicating well, taking risks, and overcoming failure. Romney failed to mention any of this.

Finally, I had a bone to pick with Romney's last statement when he declared that he would "expand [testing] in ways that maybe haven't been thought of before." Folks, there you have it. Romney would prolong the killing of learning in schools and the suppression of children. It’s no wonder we have headline grabbing and hard-hitting stories of children hooked on prescription drugs in order to pay attention during tests and class. Say hello to a generation of addicts, pencil pushers, and cogs in machines.

All in all, Romney failed to answer my question and disregarded my points on the billions of dollars—which goes into the pockets of testing executives— spent on testing and the killing of creativity.

I was shocked that Romney didn't address the creativity crisis, considering that in a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the most important "leadership competency" of the future. Insurmountable evidence demonstrates that as testing increases, creativity declines.

To be fair, President Obama is no better than his opponent. Although it was clear from the recent presidential debate that Obama believes otherwise, his Race to the Top program is a top-down initiative forced upon states with little to no dialogue from the true stakeholders: students and teachers.

If you solely scrutinize the intended outcomes of their plans, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney appear to be, as Jay Matthews of the Washington Post puts it, “education policy twins." Thus, we're left with two presidential candidates who cater to the elite and corporate interests without a plan to reinvent schools. Lovely isn't it?

What do we do? Should we just continue watching candidates stomp on each other election after election and wait for a technocrat with a sensible plan to come along? I'd rather not.

At the Brooklyn Beta conference this week, Seth Godin nailed it when he asserted, "Revolutions destroy the imperfect and enable the impossible." It's time to stir up the troublemakers, the rebels, and the mad ones—those who are not "willing to accept the limits or the doubts," but the ones who are "always digging and poking and building to make something bigger than even they can imagine."

Maybe then the once impossible will become the norm.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user -- Slavin

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

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