Phi Beta Cons

A Return to Standards

Insidehighered.com reports today that Texas governor Rick Perry has proposed broad and comprehensive standardized exit exams for graduating college seniors. While Perry argues that this new level of testing is needed “to protect integrity” in higher education and the large amounts of state funding bestowed on public higher institutions, Perry’s plan for more standardized testing should be broadened, not curtailed — as many critics are now arguing.
Opponents of standardized testing are raising their usual objections to Perry’s proposal. They argue that Perry’s plan, which offers funding incentives to colleges with high percentages of students who pass the exit exams, will lead to a narrowing of college core curriculums and an increased emphasis on “teaching to the tests.”
But these opponents ignore that many college seniors are graduating today without even a rudimentary knowledge of basic American history, government, and civics, as documented in detail by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s recent report on the civic literacy of today’s college students. ISI’s report notes that over half of all college seniors did not know that the First Amendment’s establishment clause prohibits an official religion for the U.S. More damning, a higher percentage of college freshmen (55.1%) than graduating college seniors (49.4%) knew that The Federalist Papers were written in support of ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
In this context, it’s difficult to see how “teaching to the test” could do any worse.
And of course, standardized tests have the additional benefit of being objective and race-neutral. Consequently, their use makes it much easier to compare performances of different institutions nationwide, both public and private.
For at least the last 15 years, multiculturalism has incorporated massive amounts of subjectivity into almost every aspect of higher education, all in an immense effort to mask performance gaps between different ethnic and racial groups. Objective standardized tests, such as the graduating exit exams proposed yesterday by Governor Perry, should be supported by conservatives and libertarians as one small step in restoring some semblance of objectivity to higher education.