The single-minded goal of maximizing test scores has been a blessing for the textbook market, which forces schools to buy expensive “evidence-based curricula” which has been “proven” to maximize test scores. The packages include not only textbooks and workbooks but also scripts for the teachers to read verbatim—deviating from them hasn’t been proven to raise test scores, and is thus prohibited. The package also comes with trained supervisors who drop in on teachers to make sure they’re actually sticking to the script.
The effect on the students is almost heartbreaking. Taught that reading is simply about searching contrived stories for particular “text features,” they learn to hate reading. Taught that answering questions is simply about cycling through the multiple choice answers to find the most plausible ones, they begin to stop thinking altogether and just spout random combinations of test buzzwords whenever they’re asked a question. “The joy of finding things out” is banished from the classroom. Testing is in session.
Such drills don’t teach children anything about the world, but it does teach them “skills”—skills like how to follow senseless orders and sit at your desk for hours at a time. Critics of high-stakes testing say that it isn’t working as planned: teachers are teaching to the test instead of making sure kids actually learn. But maybe that is actually the plan. After all, employers seem to like it just fine.