Blogging neighbor Mark Olson takes on standardized tests, raising some interesting points.
First, Olson argues against "curricular dogma," noting that schools test to a limited knowledge set, when instead they should test whether students can memorize, persevere, reason, and be diligent--in other words, be "studious." Now, I'm not completely sold on the "critical thinking" line that students can largely do without a common curriculum--I'm reading Hirsch's The Knowledge Deficit, and finding it convincing in parts--but I would agree that the skills a standardized test measures are narrow indeed, and, even worse, leading districts to adopt corporate-driven national curriculum, a prelude to what I've called the Frenchification of education.
Second, Olson explains why his proposal won't get too far in the present climate: he blames unions and bureaucrats for perpetuating into the status quo.
I'm not so certain that teachers' unions would be opposed to smarter tests that measured real learning, though. Most of the criticism coming out of the NEA is that the current standardized tests miss out on real merit, take ungodly amounts of time and money, encourage data fudging if not outright cheating, cheapen local control of curriculum, and place unfair burdens on teachers who teach in troubled schools.
Perseverance: our students just survived five sessions of the WASL, and have four more before they can prove their graduation-worthiness. When it comes to standardized tests, bureaucrats and testmakers have the perseverance of Sisyphus.
Sidebar: for a different teacher's take, go here.