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Standardized Testing: Birth of a Newborn or Not?

We've all gone through it at least once in school, no matter where we live. Whether we're in America, Ukraine, China, France, Israel, Russia, Argentina, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Egypt, or India, we've all met this creature face-to-face.

Polish students in an exam
Polish students taking an exam


I'm talking about standardized testing, of course. In America, we call these the SAT, the ACT, or the AP Tests. In Ukraine, we called them the IGTs. In most nations, which I've heard applies to both China and India, among others, the students will take the exam, and based on how successful they are, they will enter a university. If I'm wrong, please correct me in the comments! Thanks :D

Are these standardized tests a modern creation made to test students and give parents heart attacks? Though the current multiple-choice standardized test is a modern creation, standardized tests are, in fact, not new.

But in that case, there are several questions we have to ask. Why would anybody ever think up a standardized test? Who was the first to push students through this test? And of course, are standardized tests even worth it? Should they be replaced?

Let's begin.

Why would anybody ever think up a standardized test?

The quickest answer that comes to my mind is that in meritocratic societies, positions and social hierarchies are based on merit, not connections. But how is it possible to do this when your society has tens or hundreds of millions of people?

Obviously, to reduce the amount of effort bureaucrats had to do to find a smart individual (I promise you, that's hard), the exam system provided an easy way to  find a successor. Indeed, it's actually hard to find an official who wouldn't be biased. Obama, if he could, would choose a Democrat to be the next president. Any Republican would do the same. 

An issue more pressing at the time would be aristocracy. I bet you that if Indira Gandhi could choose her successor, it'd be one of her sons. Indeed, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that heads the Indian Congress Party is just like a monarchy - power passes along from father to daughter to son to wife to son.

That's why these standardized tests are pretty important, especially to ensure unbiased governance of a nation.

Who was the first to push students through testinf?

The Imperial Examination Systems of one country is the reason for the worldwide standardized tests. And that one country is China.

Confucius was a scholar who lived in ancient China who wrote about ethics and good governance. His philosophy is known as Confucianism. Though he was not influential - and never was in his whole lifetime, he got his revenge on the kings who refused to obey him from the grave - his philosophy became the state ideology of China for more than two millennia.

The first emperor of the Han Dynasty was dismissive of Confucianism. However, one scholar influenced him greatly, and he respected it a little more. Its influence grew more and more, and by the mid-Han, it had become the state philosophy of China.

Still, they didn't have exam systems - yet. The governors of provinces were still military, aristocratic governors descended from the founder of the dynasty.

For centuries, ideas floated around a China that would go through dynastic cycles, with each dynasty being replaced. Even in the Tang, often considered the best Chinese dynasty, the military was prioritized above the civil service. It was fundamentally an aristocracy. Still, major civil service exams were introduced in the middle of the Tang.

The following dynasty, the Song, changed all of that. The founder of the Song had been a military man and believed that the military was one of the only institutions that would have the power to overthrow his dynasty. Civil servants were placed in charge of 'equal ranked' military officers, leading to many defeats.

The military aristocracy had been wiped out in the decades-long civil war that had characterized Song's rise. With no opponents, the aristocracy was phased out, to be replaced by...

Bureaucrats! Yes, these people would have to write essays to get a good position. More specifically, they were locked in a small room for three days to write essays about how to treat people.

In modern China, more than a million people jostle for a mere 14,000 civil service jobs. Though they don't have to write essays to get the job, it's still very competitive and difficult.

The good times of the Song were abruptly brought to an end by the invading nomads. Despite all the money the Song had, their structural flaws allowed the Khitans to expand into China first, only for the Khitans to be absorbed into the rapidly growing Jurchen nation of the Jin Dynasty.

Even after the Mongols conquered the Jurchens, the Southern Song held out for around thirty years - certainly better than most of Eurasia. At any rate, the Mongols blocked the imperial exams, though later in the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, it was reintroduced on a limited scale.

After their overthrow by Han rebels, China unified into the Ming, which kept much of the same civil exams as the Yuan. However, it gradually expanded, and in the later Ming, the eight legged essay was a requirement for civil positions. It was passed on to the Qing, too.

Finally, the imperial civil service exams ended in 1911, when the empire was finally overthrown. Woohoo! The evil empires with their evil exams are gone! Freedom from tyranny! Party!

Don't celebrate yet, though. Sun Yatsen quickly created a replacement standardized test for the Republic of China, called the Examination Yuan.

Furthermore, the exams had spread from China already. Korea had adopted them for several centuries, since they were also Confucian. Vietnam had them for almost a millennia, too, and Japan had a brief foray with it. More importantly for modern standardized tests, the English East India Company adopted them for their employees - and it was a success.The exams had finally spread west to Europe...

In 1855, the exams began to be used for the British civil service as well. The hydra had jumped from continent to continent again. Eventually, it became entrenched . Now, we all take it.

Are standardized tests even worth it?

I'd say yes. As I've stated before, having subjective tests risks bias. If a particular teacher is jealous of a student, then the teacher might have the student take a harder test. If the parents of a student are friendly with a particular teacher, the teacher might give the student an easier test. If the test results are not accurate, colleges would possibly choose the student with less capability over the student with more capability.

Besides, it's the global standard now. If you dislike it, well, tough luck. It's much harder to change the world than it is to change yourself.

Should they be replaced?

If you look on any article about education, at least in America, you'll find hordes of parents and grandparents complaining about standardized tests and universal standards for everybody. These universal standards are called the Common Core, something that tries to give all students a way to measure themselves. After the failed No Child Left Behind attempt under the Bush administration, the Obama administration rolled out the Common Core.

The reason why Common Core was instituted is obvious. Maybe, like some claim, it's to turn our children into 'a new generation of socialist worker drones', as Mother Jones says. But Bill Gates explains it better - a lot better. "If you were from Maryland, you didn't have to learn trigonometry, but your neighbors in Virginia did. Maybe they have less triangles," he said.

The Common Core, unlike No Child Left Behind, put the burden on states to increase their standards. But lots of these states had no money to implement these education changes. A Department of Education program called Race to the Top would provide more than $4 billion - if schools increased their standards. Forty eight (out of fifty) states signed up, with Sarah Palin's Alaska and Rick Perry's Texas staying out of 'the race'.

In late 2011, the Common Core began taking effect. Backlash against the Common Core spread rapidly. Conservatives especially disliked the new standards, arguing that the 'old ways' without 'tests' were 'better'.

The whole purpose of Common Core was to come up with universal standards for all schoolchildren in America, where standards have been slipping. The United States pays the most money per student than any other nation in the world - a whopping $115,000. Unfortunately, the Slovak Republic, which pays around $53,000 per student, performs at around the same level. American educational standards are obviously dropping, with countries everywhere skipping ahead of us. There's obviously a problem - Obama has tried a solution. Maybe it's worked, maybe it hasn't.

Right now? I'd say that the Common Core is a sad failure. Let me repeat it again.

The Common Core is a sad, sad failure.

Why?

Just in case you ask, it's not because President Obama was the one to bring it into the United States. No, of course not. The reason is because the Common Core has proven to be a sad, sad failure. Let me explain why.



  1. Though the Common Core initially had bipartisan support, the bipartisan support stemmed from the bribes of Race to the Top. Now, with widespread opposition, states are withdrawing from it - take, for example, Missouri. Without the most underperforming states in the Common Core, it is doomed to failure. Sorry, Obama.
  2. While some type of education reform is needed, Common Core is not the solution. Comparing standards between Utah and California is tough, not just because the two have two different curriculum, but also because the quality of teachers. With Race to the Top, states now have motivation to encourage lower academic standards for the purpose of getting that $4 billion. That way, they easily fulfill it and grab the money.
But I'm still waiting for anyone to propose a good, sound education plan. Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians - anybody! All that matters is the future. Does anybody have any ideas? Until that day, I will continue to oppose Common Core.

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