Interview with Les Perelman

What is your explanation for the testing mania that seems to have taken over US education?

There are several factors propelling the testing mania. The first comes from the world-wide adoption of the system of Total Quality Management, which always wants all aspects of business performance measured and quantified. We see it now in our lives every day. I see a doctor, and my health plan sends me a form to rate the visit. I call up my bank to make an inquiry and immediately get an email asking me to rate the person whom I talked to.

The second reason is that teachers, especially K-12 teachers in the United States, have a social and professional status comparable to postal workers. People don’t trust teachers. The recent court decision in California that outlawed teacher tenure was based on a finding of fact that 1-3% of teachers are grossly incompetent. Talking to friends who are medical doctors and lawyers, I would estimate that similar percentages of grossly incompetent people populate those professions, but no one would ever make similar attacks on their privileges.

The most important motivation for the testing mania is simply corporate greed. Pearson was the single bidder for the PAARC consortium contract for the Common Core worth approximately one billion dollars. The two largest private testing companies grew out of textbook companies, Pearson and CTB / McGraw-Hill. Testing is much more lucrative than textbooks. A school district might use a set of textbooks for ten years, but they have to pay for tests every year. Moreover, if testing companies are able to use Automated Essay Scoring, their marginal cost per student approaches zero. Testing also provides publishing companies with the opportunity for complete vertical integration. They provide the textbooks for schools, then provide the computerized instruction that prepares students for the computerized tests that are based on their textbooks. Then, if students fail the test, they use the company’s online resource for remediation before taking the company’s retest. At every stage, the company’s cash register is ringing.

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