Testing a Conspiracy Theory

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott raised eyebrows last month when he and State Board of Education members engaged in a discussion of the intense focus on testing students. Scott, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, called the overemphasis on testing at the state and local level a “perversion” of what accountability proponents had intended.

You might be surprised to know that religious-right groups also haven’t been big fans of state standardized tests. But over-testing hasn’t been their concern. We found in our files a Dallas Morning News article from March 5, 1996, (“Criticism about TAAS puzzles some officials,” no link) about opposition to the state’s standardized test at the time. Here’s an excerpt:

Kelly Shackelford of the Rutherford Institute says many of his clients think the tests are really a tool for “liberal, educratic elitists” who want to monitor students’ values and undercut their religious beliefs.

For example, in 1992 a state-administered test used a reading passage and graphs on the number of followers of different religions around the world. The parents complained that the question was designed to make all religions look equal, therefore undermining their children’s Christian beliefs.

They are also concerned that the questions ask children for their personal beliefs and that those beliefs may then be used against the students if they don’t conform to educators’ values.

“These questions are being asked in a secretive atmosphere,” Mr. Shackelford said. “A lot of people think it’s an attempt by these folks … to use the government to affect the minds of students and their belief systems.”

Some parents are afraid that the state is using opinion questions to spy on their children.

“Whoever has access to these students’ tests is of great concern to parents,” said [Cathie] Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum. “How do we know it’s not going to be shared with businesses? If a child has emotional problems when he’s 10 and he goes to apply to work at a large corporation when he’s 21, they’ll have his whole history.”

Have mercy. Tests are the secretive tools of “liberal, educratic elitists” engaged in anti-Christian, mind-controlling, school-corporate conspiracies? We’re kind of disappointed that Shackelford and Adams didn’t warn parents about the black helicopters delivering those subversive tests to schools across Texas.

You want to know what’s really scary? Shackelford — now head of Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family — and Adams — once again head of Texas Eagle Forum and recently chair of the Texas Republican Party — continue to wield political influence over Gov. Perry and substantially more than a few state lawmakers.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted February 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    There are so many sides to this issue. Charles rightly criticizes the credulity and ignorance of Christian Fundamentalists who believe everything their leaders tell them. Remember, all of these people, leaders included, get their news from Fox News and haven’t the slightest desire to more deeply research any topic.

    The irony of the over-emphasis on student testing is that its present manifestation is due solely to No Child Left Behind, George W Bush’s sole piece of domestic legislation in his eight-year administration. NCLB’s ostensible purpose was to improve the education of all American students, so rigorous national testing was required to verify incremental improvement and academic success. Unfortunately, by design or chance, no federal funds were provided to enable schools to achieve better results, so all the testing usually just documents non-improvement. Many think, including me, that the true but hidden reason for NCLB was to document the failure of public schools so that private school vouchers could be used across the country. Public school failure is the unique circumstance in which the Supreme Court permits private school vouchers, i.e. support of religious schools with public tax money. Such a situation must be documented by completely fair, neutral, and national standardized tests. Ergo, the pervasive testing culture.

    But there’s even more to this story than people realize. Why are there uniform standardized tests in the first place? Don’t individual schools and local school districts adequately test their students to document achievement and ensure accountability? The answer, sadly, is no. The history of state and federal academic requirements has shown that local schools and districts will lie and cheat to meet imposed or expected academic standards. They can’t be trusted and states and the feds don’t trust them for good reason. Because of the American culture of anti-intellectualism, failure to consider the consequences of actions, and the lack of patience and deferring gratification, schools are under tremendous pressure to dumb down instruction and graduate poorly-educated students, which they do by grade inflation and social promotion. It is a vicious cycle. State and federal standardized tests are a necessity to achieve accountability and fairly and uniformly document academic achievement across the nation. So it’s no wonder students are taught to the expected test, not provided a deep and worthwhile liberal education. The only way to beat this vicious cycle is to start testing for a deep and worthwhile liberal education. Such tests, which test for critical thinking skills and cultural knowledge as well as the ability to reason using topical knowledge, are surely possible, but the vast majority of students would fail such tests today.

  2. Posted February 9, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    You mean, they don’t realize that Texas’s tests are crappy because they’ve been watered down and hacked up to please Christian fundamentalists?

    A construction supervisor I worked with once upon a time had a cartoon of a guy tearing his hair and screaming, “Oh, [anti-euphemism for crap]! You did it just exactly like I told you to do it!”

    Odd to hear fundies complain about their work that way.

  3. Doc Bill
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Do conspiracy theories make you insane, or do you have to be insane, first?

    Cathie Adams writes:

    “How do we know it’s not going to be shared with businesses? If a child has emotional problems when he’s 10 and he goes to apply to work at a large corporation when he’s 21, they’ll have his whole history.”

    Now, think about this for a moment because obviously poor old Cathie is completely unable to think.

    The word “businesses.” What comes to mind Republicans or Democrats? Well, the GOP, the party of big business, large corporations and all that jazz. So, Cathie is worried that the kid’s personal information will fall into the hands of Republican big business. Or, did I miss the memo and flaming liberals control big business? Who knew!

    Which side are you on, Cathie? Are you an Obama Democrat disguised as a fruitcake?

    Secondly, never-having-worked-for-a-corporation Cathie is totally clueless, I would say abjectly stupid, but I won’t, about how anybody is hired by a corporation. If an applicant provided me with a resume that had his 4th Grade report card attached, I would probably have a coffee-spewing hearty laugh before tossing it in the round file.

    But, I digress.

    My advice to Cathie Adams is that she needs do double down on the heavy duty tin foil stuffed in her hoodie because the Illuminati have spy satellites controlled from a secret bunker in Belgium that can read your thoughts and track your every move. (They can’t see you, Cathie, if you use layers. Remember, layers!)

  4. AuntBec
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Perfect response Charles….let me just second that….

  5. Charles
    Posted February 8, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Fruit—well—you know. The sad thing is that there are so many Christian fundamentalists out there who are stupid enough to believe this crap. If any of them had ever had a real education, they would be smart enough to see through it. Trouble is, as the great circus magnate said, “A sucker is born every minute.” That means 1,420 suckers will have been born by the end of today alone. Is it any wonder then that the Liberty Institute is able to stay in business?

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