The merits of standardized testing have been contested for decades, but always in the realm of secondary education and, occasionally, higher education. Opponents charge that schools have begun "teaching to the test" such that students can regurgitate exactly what they have memorized, but are unable to produce the basis for the answers. Those who support standardized testing dismiss this theory for its practical impossibilities - test questions are selected from larger sets and are constantly changing. They also do not agree that, if implemented, it is necessarily harmful. Abstractly, the point of knowledge is the future application of it against some obstacle. Tests provide early training for those obstacles. Without conducting tests on a national level and against measurable standards, tests are only as valuable as the reputation of the creator - as are the students that take them. Furthermore, recent alternatives to standardized testing have only produced wild grade inflations. Lloyd Bond, a Senior Scholar at Carnegie, dispels many myths propagated by the "fair testing" movement.
Schools cannot simply avoid standardized tests. The meritocracy demands them, and there is also the issue of pacifying the purse strings. But rather than embark on a study of standardized tests as they pertain to schools, let us rather take a glimpse at how the underlying motive to eliminate them has entered the marketplace in broader and more dangerous extremes. There are connections and consequences here that cannot be ignored.
Finding and handling employees is one of the most difficult aspects of any enterprise. Most businesses refer to this as "human resources". It is especially difficult in free societies because each citizen allots himself a healthy share of respect and is therefore more easily offended. In class systems, each participant knows his role and fully appreciates those that are better than him. The American education system teaches us that fairness is the most important attribute of free trade, but it has defined fairness through phrases such as "consumer advocacy", "racial diversity", "equal opportunity" and "corporate responsibility". Employers and managers alike are bludgeoned with these terms on a monthly basis by ideologues who offer no data actually proving that America is better off thereby. They are only quick to insist that it is, and that we must believe it. The result is an infinite pool of applicants that are inherently seen as able employees, the onus being on corporations to prove why each person was not hired. This has lead to ludicrous tort cases for which ludicrous amounts of money have been paid.
Enter Georgia-Pacific, one of the world's largest paper manufacturers. In the past few days, the company has decided to pay off nearly 400 job applicants after the Department of Labor found their corporate hiring practices to be discriminatory. The finding arose as part of a routine audit of one of Georgia-Pacific's federal contracts in the Port Hudson area. Georgia-Pacific used the nationally standardized Test of Adult Basic Literacy to screen all job applicants for positions inside the factory, and applicants that couldn't pass the test were bounced immediately. The Department of Labor decided that this test discriminated against blacks because they were far more likely to fail the test than whites. Georgia-Pacific, under protest, yanked the test and agreed to back-pay with interest to the sum of $749,076. They are also hiring 24 of the applicants and beginning a two-year self-monitoring program to counter their previous discriminatory hiring practices. This is an appalling conclusion, and a new low for our government.
First we'll discuss the obvious follies. How does a national reading test, used in thousands of companies and learning centers, inherently discriminate against a particular race or culture?
Are the actual test questions inherently more difficult for blacks to understand than whites? Segregation ended forty years ago. Black students are not required to attend different schools than white students. It is true that schools with more black students do worse statistically than schools with more whites. It is also true that vouchers could have easily fixed that problem, but liberal educators rejected them. To say that blacks are more likely to fail a plain English test by nature is quite an offensive and subjugating claim. Perhaps Jesse Jackson should sue the Department of Labor. Certainly, he believes in the intellectual ability of his community more than that.
Another option is that the questions on the test are intrinsically offensive to blacks, and therefore they refuse to answer them. This is highly improbable. The test has been administered to millions of citizens over the past several decades and is an active part of hundreds of other testing platforms including corporate, state, prison, and nonprofit education systems. To date, there has not been one recorded lawsuit filed against this test for racial content.
We are left with one conclusion: blacks do not speak English as well as whites. And on some level this appears to be true. For a while, the citizenry had to chew on a concept called "Ebonics". Ebonics is nothing more than an appalling, English-mangling, inner-city vernacular dreamed up in the 70s by several psychologists. It came to the mainstream in the mid 90s but was quickly kicked to the curb as a waste of everyone's collective time. While the concept may be gone, the vernacular is very much alive. This jargon is used by blacks and whites on and off the streets every day. But even if one was to concede that Ebonics was a legitimate dialect, should corporate marketing material, business documents and paperwork be published in it? What about safety stickers on factory hardware? Certainly we can find factory workers who prefer some other language over English. Are they also then not entitled to the language of their choice? At this point, we will refrain from expounding on the virtue of a national language.
Let us also consider the manner in which the test was ruled to be discriminatory. The Department of Labor did not cite a single study that concluded the test is slanted against blacks. No data was offered. No experts were quoted. The sole claim was based on the fact that significantly more blacks had failed the test than whites, but even those numbers were not thoroughly scrutinized. Was the black failure rate related to the test at all? What percentage of applicants were black to begin with? If 90% of all applicants were black and half the applicants failed the test, of course the black failure rate would be significantly higher than whites. And how - assuming the black failure rate was legitimate by percentage - was that the fault of Georgia-Pacific or the testing facility they used?
It is possible all of these issues were discussed by the government throughout the audit. And it is very likely that a foot of paperwork was filed and a dozen consultants were paid. But the public was given no such information. We are only left with the ugly feeling in the pit of our stomachs that government is once again the enemy of progress. It should also be noted that the Department of Labor has not, as of yet, written any official memos on the test, asking for it to be changed in other venues. Nor have they posted information about the test on their website for the good of other companies.
To bolster its credibility, the Department of Labor also asserted that the factory work in question did not require reading, hence the test was irrelevant to the job. This is the highest aggravation of all. Are we to expect corporations to define jobs requirements at the lowest common denominator? This is a sad day for the Department of Labor.
A society that welcomes the finest workforce would want hiring standards to be as rigorous as possible. It would congratulate employers that used various tests to filter out better workers. Equally, a society that welcomes the brightest minds would want education standards to be as strict as possible. It would want those standards to be measured and vetted and refined, not thrown away for something easier.
This is to say nothing of the obvious need for reading skills in a factory. Safety stickers and manuals are the least of it. What of promotion from within? Will these factory workers always remain factory workers? Georgia-Pacific specifically mentioned this as one of the main reasons they used the literacy test originally. The company wants its employees to progress. The company does promote from within. The US government, on the other hand, is only concerned with handing out fish instead of teaching people how to bait a hook.
All of these issues derive from a deeper and more troubling one - companies are not allowed to discriminate as they see fit for new hires. What proof do we have that unequal opportunity in hiring is bad for the economy or harmful to society at large? We have witnessed dozens of corporate offenses in the past decade, from accounting fraud to conspiracy and theft. But all of those companies had diversity programs. All of them complied with equal opportunity mandates. Are there any available examples of corruption directly due to race, religion or gender discrimination? Does discrimination cause inflation, increase corporate crime, eliminate competition or produce unfair trade? The government has never demonstrated such. Neither have public study groups. Liberal elites simply insist that corporations must comply, and avoid worrying about the facts. One will note that the most "racially diverse" cities in the US are also the most crime ridden and have the highest deficits.
The only benefit to the Georgia-Pacific incident is the advantage it provides young parents. When do you want your children to learn how to handle life obstacles? In the workforce where they have to depend on unions, consumer advocates and lawyers to succeed? Or in school where they can mentally prepare themselves to be independent from a young age?
Dimwits do not become magically intelligent after graduating. They become proletarians. The motives for removing standardized testing in education is the same motive that removes it from the corporate workforce: selling the future for better results now. That is hardly worth the decline in American education and production standards.
To see some of the unintended consequences of these policies, one need look no further than the last few elections. Why is it that Democratic voters have problems figuring out how to use ballots? We don't hear of Republicans mistakenly voting for Pat Buchanan when they really meant George W. Bush, now do we? Hold back your constituents too far, and they won't be able to vote for you. How long will be be before we hear demands for African-style balloting - that is, ballots printed with the candidates' photographs, since so few can read their names?
As liberals complain about the polarization of society, with the immense and growing wealth of the few contrasting with the increasing size of the unproductive underclass, might it possibly occur to them that being able to read could be useful to the underprivileged? Failure of some is not caused by the success of others. It is caused by failed policies and false incentives.