Any Standardised Test is Inauthentic?

‘Any standardised test is inauthentic and that you do not need to test in order to assess’…Provocative, ain’t it?

Before you read on, let me say that this post, like some [not all] of the other posts on this blog, is an attempt to provide the readers of this blog with a range of opinions on testing. My own opinion on testing is not aligned with Alfie Kohn’s. Also what Alfie Kohn calls authentic assessments, such as the projects and portfolios, can also be inauthentic under certain some circumstances. I do not understand how an assessment can be completely authentic. I do, however, understand the rhetorical work that the term ‘authentic,’ performs in the discourse on assessment inasmuch as it privileges some ‘real’ experiences by the learner in an educative environment. But I do not think it is clearly defined either by people who use it.

I think tests can be used to create useful conversations. I agree with Alfie Kohn, however, inasmuch as high stakes use of standardised tests is concerned, and have said this in an earlier post as well.

Below, then, the excerpts from Alfie Kohn’s interview in Education Week.

… any test that’s standardized — one-size-fits-all, created and imposed by distant authorities — is inauthentic and is likely to measure what matters least. If these people were serious about assessing children’s thinking, they would be supporting teachers in gathering information over time about the depth of understanding that’s reflected in their projects and activities. Do the folks at DOE even realize that you don’t need to test in order to assess?

He says further:

A high-stakes approach, in which you use your power to compel people below you to move in whatever direction you want is at the heart of the Bush-Obama-Gates sensibility (see NCLB, Race to the Top, etc.). And that will undermine any assessment they come up with. We saw that in Kentucky and Maryland a dozen years ago: “Accountability” systems destroyed performance-based assessments. It’s sort of like the economic principle about currency known as Gresham’s Law: Bad assessments will drive out good assessments in a high-stakes environment.


The problem isn’t just with the (manipulative) method; it’s with the goal. The high stakes here aren’t designed to improve learning, at least in any meaningful sense of the word. They’re designed to improve test scores. Those are two completely different things, and they typically pull in opposite directions. Pressure people to raise scores, and the classroom will be turned into a test-prep center. Such an environment will likely make anyone’s passion for learning (or teaching) evaporate.


“So how should we reward teachers? We shouldn’t. They’re not pets. Rather, teachers should be paid well, freed from misguided mandates, treated with respect, and provided with the support they need to help their students become increasingly proficient and enthusiastic learners.”

via Alfie Kohn: We Have to Take Back Our Schools – Living in Dialogue – Education Week Teacher.

Disclaimer: The external websites are quoted on this blog to provide the readers with a range of opinions on any given topic to help them reflect on their own questions concerning the issue being discussed. This blog does not endorse views expressed on external websites unless explicitly stated

About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

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