America has taken seriously the responsibility for educating its people from the very beginning. And from the start, there have been two schools of thought concerning the kind of testing that should be used to assess the progress of its teaching methods and content of the American education.
The existence of unregulated rural schools made standardized testing necessary as early as the 1870’s. To ensure that the graduates of one-room school houses were ready for high school, a two-exam was introduced. Administered at the county seat, the Eighth Grade Examination was used to determine a student’s academic preparedness.
Today, each state has its own set of expected tests. Individual teachers, of course, usually conduct quizzes and tests at the completion of each educational unit. These assessments are only used to judge the work done by each student during the previous unit and do not keep a student from proceeding to the next chapter.
State standardized testing can keep a student from moving on to the next grade or from receiving an elementary or high school diploma. These tests assess the student and the school on their ability to master the state’s educational standards. There are also national tests that assess the state’s ability to educate its students in a basic American education, but also seems to attempt to establish national standards of educational content.
The establishment of national standards of education has fired up the controversy over educational content that has raged from the birth of this country. The traditional side advocates a drilling of basic facts and abilities as the basis of education. The progressive side advocates an American education that is based on autonomy, creativity and curiosity.
The traditionalists believe that American citizens should be taught to read, know history, write and understand their responsibilities as citizens. Their methods include memorization and phonics which can be tested easily. Progressives follow the tenets of the father of public American education, John Dewey.
They believe in making intellectually independent American citizens who can think critically, question authority and become lifetime learners. They strongly question using school time to administer standardized test after test as well as the classroom time that is devoted to preparing students for tests.