Home | IL Academe | About IL AAUP | Conference Corner | Calendar | Services | Committees | Contact Us | Grants | Reports | Links


Standardized Testing: A Political Agenda
By Leo Welch

It appears that Charles Miller, former head of the Education Secretary’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, is going to get his way – at least in Texas. When the commission started meeting, the fear was that a call would be made for some type of mandatory standardized testing for college and university undergraduates. Miller was a major proponent of standardized testing and apparently will see his wish implemented in Texas.

Texas governor, Republican Rick Perry, has announced increased financial support for public higher education, but this is coupled with testing requirements for graduating seniors. Testing would include licensure exams or Education Testing Service exams for various college majors. Although the results of these tests will not be required to graduate, they will effect the state funding of the institution. Governor Perry claims that the exit exams are required “to protect the integrity” of tax supported institutions.
As expected, faculty took a dim view of funding public higher education based on standardized tests. Charles Zucker, executive director of the Texas Faculty Association, stated: “I’d give a flunking grade to the testing proposal. There is now a widespread consensus in Texas that all of the K-12 standardized testing that we have done has not really worked. We’ve had massive amounts of teaching to the test going on, and now that there’s a consensus that has failed, the governor wants to institute the same plan for higher education.”

The major fields test will be provided by the Educational Testing Services (ETS) in fifteen undergraduate majors and MBA programs. It will be somewhat difficult to teach to the test because ETS tests for history but not philosophy, music but not art, and sociology but not anthropology to name a few examples. Raymond Paredes, commissioner of higher education in Texas, said that other tests would be needed to fill in these gaps.

Neither Paredes nor the governor discussed the financial impact of their agenda. All of the ETS tests cost $25 per student and will be purchased by the institution. There was no mention of the administrative costs which also will be significant. In all-too typical fashion, an unfunded mandate has been dumped on the Texas higher education community.
How does this initiative in Texas relate to Illinois? Illinois has already agreed to participate in a pilot project directed by the National Forum on College-Level Learning and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. This project involved testing of public community college and public university students. This pilot program was authorized by the Illinois board of Higher Education. The results of the testing were reported in Measuring Up 2006 with cautionary notes such as: results should be treated with caution because of the small number of test takers, and the scores of four-year institutions should be qualified because of a limited number of institutions participating. Nevertheless the results were published and the causal reader could easily assume their validity.

Margaret Miller, Project Director for the National Forum, has stated that she supports a “No Child Left Behind Act” for higher education. I view this pilot test in Illinois and Kentucky, Nevada, Oklahoma and Nevada as a preliminary effort to do just that. Not surprisingly Charles Miller, former chair of the Educations Secretary’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, was one of the participants in the original meeting of the National Forum on College-Level Learning held at PepsiCo Headquarters in Purchase, NY in November of 2001.

Ten of the twenty one participants at the national Forum meeting in November of 2001 were CEOs of corporations who, I think, are looking for college graduates who meet their current work force requirements. If corporations are the driving force of “educational reform” in the form of standardized testing then I will argue that these tests will be modified to train students in the needs of the corporation at the expense of liberal learning.

According to an Associated Press article released on February 13, 2007 Texas Governor Rick Perry is using his political muscle to push his agenda. Wayne R. Roberts, Perry’s senior advisor for higher education e-mailed dozens of university regents, chancellors and presidents to urge them to endorse his higher education reform plan.

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said he believes the e-mails inappropriately set out “marching orders” for administrators. McDonald’s group tracks the effect of money and corporate power in politics.

A top university official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Perry’s office called members of his system’s board of regents and told them to get system administrators to endorse the plan.
I have continued to argue the nation-wide movement for standardized testing is a political agenda and not an educational one. I would further argue the events taking place in Texas will be copied elsewhere, and we already have a good start in Illinois.
The traditional role of faculty in assigning student grades, designing the curriculum and other responsibilities of the professoriate are in jeopardy. Of course, faculty design and administer tests, but utilizing one-size-fits-all standardized tests for the purpose of funding is entirely different.

I would call on faculty to oppose this model that is proposed for Texas. After all, there have been enough bad things recently coming out of Texas.

Sources: Fort Worth Star Telegram; Illinois Board of Higher Education; InsideHigherEd.com; The National Forum on College Level Learning