What Achievement Gap? Part one.

Much is made of the “achievement gap” among American students. Seems that whites and asians do better on standardized national tests than blacks and latinos. This worries parents, frustrates educators and enrages politicians. “Education is in crisis!” “We need to reform the education system!” “Government isn’t responding so fire the experienced educators and bring in billionaire hedge fund managers!” “Students refuse to get good grades! Good grades are ‘acting white!'” “Teachers aren’t teaching and its because of the teacher unions!” “Parents aren’t making their kids do homework so give them more homework!” “Students are doing poorly on standardized tests so give them more tests!”

What’s all the hubbub, bub?

This may come as a complete surprise but you will find that students who practice the bassoon, play the bassoon better than students who say things like, “What’s a bassoon?” I have yet to hear the national outcry over this crisis in bassoon playing. (No offense to woodwinds.) Now that could be for various reasons: Woodwind prejudice Simple ignorance of the soothing tones of the bassoon. Confusion of bassoons with baboons etc. But I’m going to guess that the general public is not rallying around the cause of universal bassoon playing because they don’t see why every child needs to play the bassoon. The same could said of the lack of a national Win Monopoly Every Time You Play lobby and a Never Once Let the Spinning Plate Fall PAC. Now understand, nobody is against bassoon playing (maybe listening to bassoon playing) and everybody who plays Monopoly likes to win and we can be very entertained by a plate spinner, but we recognize that these activities are not necessary for every one to engage in in order for everyone to have a good life. The same cannot be said of standardized testing.

Standardize testing in the United States has become something of a secular rite of passage, a test of fire that every child MUST take and those whose wits fail them must perish in the pit that is …  tending the McDonald’s french fryer. Oh the humanity!

And what of those who do make it through, who reach the other side of the test, the land of ever improving scores (100% correct and getting better all the time!)? What is their life time achievement award? They survive to take another test. What are they being tested on? What does all this testing show? What does it mean about the student, the parents, the teachers, the schools, the society as a whole?


It is an article of faith that by testing children, we can divine the future of children, the ability of teachers, the effectiveness of public education, and what cliffhanger True Blood will leave us with this season. A miraculous process indeed. But does it really work?


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