By Denny Taylor.

The truth is that the fill-in-the-bubble, ranking and sorting, high stakes testing, political reform of public education is a total system failure

“You have to be very cautious and careful about accepting claims by power systems,” Chomsky said to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, July 1, 2015. “They have no reason to tell you the truth. And you have to look and ask, ‘What is the truth?’”

Chomsky gets at the truth on high-stakes testing and calls for action in this interview:

In recent years there’s a strong tendency to require assessment of children and teachers, so that you have to teach to the tests, and the test determines what happens to the child and what happens to the teacher. That’s guaranteed to destroy any meaningful educational process.

It means a teacher cannot be creative, imaginative, pay attention to individual students’ needs. The students can’t pursue things that – maybe some kid is interested in something, but you can’t do it because you need to memorize something for this test tomorrow. The teacher’s future depends on it as well as the student’s.

The people sitting in offices, the bureaucrats designing this, they’re not evil people, but they are working within a system of ideology and doctrines, which turns what they are doing into something extremely harmful.

You don’t have to assess people all the time. If a person’s doing their job, the kids are getting along, go ahead. People don’t have to be ranked in terms of some sort of artificial – the assessment itself is completely artificial. It’s not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who’ll reach their potential, explore their creative interests and so on. Those things you’re not testing.

So you’re giving some kind of a rank, but it’s a rank that’s mostly meaningless, and the very ranking itself is harmful. It’s turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank, not to doing things that are valuable and important. It’s highly destructive. This is elementary education, so you are trying to train kids this way, and its very harmful. …

The truth is that the fill-in-the-bubble, ranking and sorting, high stakes testing, political reform of public education is a total system failure, unless the purpose of public education is to sustain the structural inequality inherent in U.S. society, maintain poverty and racial divisions, and increase the vulnerability of poor children.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s I worked with public school teachers to develop alternative assessment models to reverse the damage of tests that ranked and sorted children. One of these models was a “Student Advocacy Model of Instructional Assessment (From the Child’s Point of View, Denny Taylor, 1993). Here is a description of this Child Advocacy Model that made a difference in the lives of many children and their teachers:

The student advocacy model of instructional assessment is designed to support students’ learning in an educational system that strives to be both excellent and equitable. Above all the model honors diversity, and acknowledges that it is the combined interests, skills, and abilities of students that will enable them to work collaboratively in ways that will prepare them for the rapidly changing world of the twenty-first century. If such a student model were adopted, students who learn in ways that do not meet traditional school expectations would not be labeled. Students who are poor would not be penalized. Students of color would have a chance to succeed. Students whose young lives have been damaged by life’s circumstances would have the opportunity to recover. In this student advocacy model, the emphasis is placed on gaining information about the ways in which students learn, what they know, and what they can do. The local knowledge of students and their families becomes important. Their ways of solving problems become the focus of attention, and supporting the ways in which they learn becomes the purpose of assessment (p. 176).


The student advocacy model was developed with and for teachers and children in public school classrooms – approximately 120 teachers and 1,200 elementary school children – and is fully documented. It worked so well that we were quietly advised by a state official to take the project “underground”. Why? – because the Student Advocacy Model of Instructional Assessment was self-sustaining and required no commercial basal readers or high stakes commercial tests. The focus of teachers was on creative problem solving activities and projects that promoted resiliency and built on students’ strengths.

Policy makers and public officials stopped these very successful teacher-led initiatives by instituting mandates that required commercial programs and made it difficult for teachers to continue the instructional and assessment practices that they had developed based on disciplined and systematic close observation of children. In a very short period of time the corporate moneymaking fill-in-the-bubble-don’t-know-the-child ranking and sorting tests of NCLB replaced the teacher developed student advocacy model. A description of what happened next in included in the introduction that I wrote for Ken Goodman’s politically maligned book on the reading process and how young children learn to read and write.

Chomsky is right when he recommends that we should be very cautious and careful about accepting claims by power systems. They have no reason to tell us the truth and many $$$ reasons to lie. But what is important here is that there is sufficient documentary evidence to counter the propaganda, and it is possible to state without any qualifiers or modifiers that children are more successful in school when they are not burdened by commercial programs or high stakes tests.

Denny Taylor is Founder & CEO of Garn Press. She is a lifelong activist and scholar committed to nurturing the imagination and human spirit.


Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.


  1. howardat58    

    I guess that none of the politicians have heard of Noam Chomsky.

  2. Alexsandra    

    One of the finest educators in our country. I consider him to be a sainted hero. He’s trying to cure ignorance.

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