There are a lot of things to dislike about contemporary trends in American educational “assessment.” Some of the common complaints, however, seem to me to be a little ad-hoc. For instance, one can certainly object that quantitative measures are not the best way to go about assessing educational effectiveness — but that critique can also appear opportunistic in light of the fact that grades and exams were a central part of the pre-”assessment” regime.
The key critique of this regime, it seems to me, is its completely unscientific nature. There are countries that are generally agreed to be doing a better job of educating their population than the US. The way they run their systems is public knowledge, and I’m sure they would be happy to clarify about any questions we might have. Indeed, we could probably bring in a team of Korean or Finnish assessors to help us figure out how we could emulate them better.
What we’ve chosen to do instead is to implement a completely new and unprecedented system, made up of new standards of measurement and new types of “accountability.” We have no particular reason to believe that this system will actually produce better results. If anything, we have reason to believe the opposite, insofar as the most successful countries are doing nothing of the sort — to say nothing of the fact that these policies are being promoted by such luminaries as Bill Gates, whose expertise at creating cheap knockoffs of other companies’ software gives him unique insight into how to improve the American educational system.
And what if the assessment regime doesn’t wind up producing better results? I think we all know what the conclusion will be then: we need to assess harder.