Whether or not standardized tests assess content knowledge or critical thinking, they certainly assess the following traits, with varying levels of emphasis.

Feel free to add to the list.

Student is able to sit still, quietly.
Student is able to follow instructions.
Student is diligent, and observant.
Student fixes own mistakes, or corrects self, when shown to be in the wrong.
Student can tell, after the fact, when said student has made a mistake.
Student has high tolerance for bureaucratic poppycock.
Student understands spoken and written English at a moderate level.
Student uses clues to figure out what answer the authority wants them to give.
Student individually compensates for any skills above that said student lacks.
As a last resort, student retakes test and tries retaining knowledge the second time around.

If school isn’t meant to prepare students with content knowledge, but for life — as more than a few bloggers have proposed — then standardized assessments shouldn’t assess students’ knowledge, but assessable skills.

My take: There are two or three applications for these skills out in the real world.

Divergent or contrary opinions are not simply welcome; they are encouraged.


  1. My take is that some of this may be related to your recent hiring/political issues.

    A wise man, many years ago, told me that getting an advanced degree said less about your competence in a subject, and more about your ability to deal with red tape.

    Employers want to be able to get a team to work together. Effective companies need people who are able to subordinate their immediate personal desires to a larger effort. Sometimes that means doing an unwanted task. Sometimes that means doing something that makes no sense because you aren’t exposed to the whole bigger picture.

    The military is an extreme example of this – but the skills that make the military effective at what they do are prized in the corporate world as well.

    This doesn’t mean that you need to kowtow all the time. It doesn’t mean that you have to be a pandering yes man. It certainly doesn’t mean that you need to give up your independent thought.

    But those things will work best when applied appropriately, at times when it will make a difference in the final product. Pursuing independence at all costs as your standard MO will increase your frustration level, the amount of work you need to do to succeed, and decrease your effectiveness and efficiency.

    In order to break the rules effectively, you need to learn to follow them first.

  2. Kathryn

    Life vs. academics is a false dichotomy. If I wanted my children “prepared…for life” only, I would teach them to read and rent them out as apprentices.

  3. hey, i’m sorry to leave this as a comment–but i don’t know your contact info–I’m writing an article on what to expect as a new teacher, and am interviewing several teacher-bloggers. wanted to see if you’d be interested in adding your perspective? hit me up on the email, if so.

  4. Mr. Knauss: My red tape tolerance is at a historic low.

    My take is that some of this may be related to your recent hiring/political issues.

    Not at all, actually. I had just decided to exercise my overdeveloped sense of being a devil’s advocate.

    Ms. Kathryn: Agreed. Content has its place, assuredly. The penultimate holy grail of education — second only to “what makes students interested” — is merging the relevancies of content and students’ daily life.

    Ms. Varlas: Depends on the perspective.

  5. If you haven’t seen it, don’t miss Tom Chapin’s “It’s not on the test”

  6. I’ve seen it linked before, though this is the first time I’ve bothered to play it. Well-produced, and worth a watch.

    It hits a lot of the same chords — heh — as most NCLB and standardized testing critics.

  1. 1 Missing Something « On the Tenure Track

    […] She had been at FoodMaxx, a discount warehouse grocery store, climbing the corporate ladder from the checkout to corporate trainer and beyond for most of the last 30 years. When her store was bought out, she turned to teaching. She’s having a blast, and her students have scored pretty well on tests, for what they’re worth. […]

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