20 January 2010

Article: The Anti-Democratic Curriculum of High-Stakes Testing

A new journal, "Critical Education", launches with an article on "The Idiocy of Policy: The Anti-Democratic Curriculum of High-Stakes Testing" by Wayne Au (1 [1], January 2010).

The article can be read free of charge at this link:


Abstract: "Making use of the body of literature outlining the various controlling aspects of high-stakes testing on classroom practice, the analysis presented here finds that vertical hierarchies are both established and maintained through the top-down structure of education policies in the United States, as exemplified by the No Child Left Behind Act. By looking at the effects of such policies through Parker's (2005) discussion of key aspects of democratic education, this article finds that educational policies based upon systems of high-stakes, standardized testing represent a curriculum that teaches anti-democracy."

Some excerpts: "[P]olicies centered upon systems of high-stakes standardized testing [...] have been advanced upon a consistent rhetoric of democracy, couched in terms of individual choice, individual equality, equal opportunity for achievement [...].

"Indeed, high-stakes tests hold so much power because their results are tied, by policy, to rewards or sanctions that can deeply affect the lives of students, teachers, principals, and communities. [...]. The power in this model, then, is located in the upper echelons of institutional bureaucracies that maintain the authority to determine the assessment, determine the criteria for what counts as passing or failing, and determine the sanctions and punishments for those that do not meet their criteria for passing. [...]

"[E]ducators and students alike are essentially being 'taught' a curriculum that is anti-democratic. This can be seen in the various ways teaching and learning have been restructured [...] to control teachers, to restrict diversity, and to ignore local contexts and voices. [...] The current hegemony of high-stakes testing [...] also undermines democratic thinking more generally by narrowing the conversations that students, teachers, and communities can engage in as potentially active participants in the content and direction of schooling relative to broader social relations." (italics removed)

"Critical Education" is an international peer-reviewed journal, published by the Institute for Critical Education Studies and based at the University of British Columbia.

Wayne Au is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Secondary Education at California State University, Fullerton.

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