Standardized testing is, by definition, a product of large scale education, just as automobile is the product of mass production. The only way to produce a good car cheaply enough to be accessible to everyone, it was said, was to cut out all of the irregularities of the production process. You can only maximize profits if every McDonald’s fry is the same, every time, everywhere in the world.
We paid a certain cost in the qualities of our work lives for these profits, of course; all of those inconsistencies in the production process reflected the people making the cars or the fries. People always find small and large ways to put their individuality back into the process, but the push-back against alienation can only go so far before capital reasserts itself. Profit first, people second.
In education, people have pushing against the factory standardization model from the very start and in higher education, just as we seem on the verge of some sort of final victory against the S.A.T. and the A.C.T. and their ilk, capital is once again asserting itself. The new standardized test, according to a recent opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed, will be called the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA).
Why do we need a new standardized test? The profit motive is obvious; standardized testing is a huge industry. By definition, too, it cannot be decentralized. The non-standardized alternative, roughly speaking, is a portfolio system which is by definition tailored to individual students. There’s some profit in these portfolios, but nothing approaching the money made in a standardized mass-market.
It’s no surprise that two co-authors of the piece are executives of the company selling the CLA. The aims of the CLA, assessing students on so-called real world competencies, seems fine, but we don’t need another illusory attempt to put learning into an objective box. The logical fallacy here, is an old one that equates learning with consumer products, but students aren’t fries or cars.