The not-so-secret secret behind the standardized test is that it is in effect the fast-food of learning and assessment. Everything from the SAT to the “Race to the Top” tests have their roots in the same economic and social desire to deliver a product as cheaply and efficiently as possible to as many people as possible. In the food industry it can only be called successful if you ignore the resulting obesity epidemic. In education, it can only be called successful if you ignore the deepening social inequities.
One solution to fast food, to keep the metaphor alive, is called the slow food movement. The idea seems simple: try not to do much to your food before you eat it. Don’t cook it too much; don’t raise it too far away. It’s an old-fashioned, almost pre-modern idea: don’t eat too much meat and do eat lots of fruit and vegetables grown nearby. If we had a government willing to pass laws and regulations to encourage it, it would engender a slow revolution in just about every part of our lives.
As it turns out, as at least one high school has shown, writing can be thought of as a kind of slow learning analogous to slow food that can replace the empty calories of the standardized test. The key is to integrate writing thoroughly into the curriculum, using it both as way to tie seeming disparate subjects together and to reinforce knowledge. Just like slow food, the idea is old-fashioned, if not pre-modern. It’s a much more individualized, personal process, a richer, and so more effective non-standardized assessment.