Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Testing

“The assessment itself is completely artificial. It’s not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who will reach their potential, explore their creative interests. Those things you’re not testing.. 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 into doing things that are valuable and important.”


The following is a partial transcript for an interview with Noam Chomsky uploaded to youtube by The Progressive Magazine.

“You take what is happening in education. Right now, in recent years, there’s a strong tendency to require assessment of children and teachers so that you have to teach to 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 the teacher cannot be creative, imaginative, pay attention to individual students’ needs. The student can’t pursue things, maybe some kid is interested in something, can’t do it because you got to memorize something for this test tomorrow. And the teacher’s future depends on it, as well as the student.

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

First of all, you don’t have to assess people all the time… People don’t have to be ranked in terms of some artificial [standards]. The assessment itself is completely artificial. It’s not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who will reach their potential, explore their creative interests. Those things you’re not testing.

So you are 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 into doing things that are valuable and important.

It’s highly destructive at the lower grades. This is elementary education, so you are training kids this way. And it’s very harmful. I could see it with my own children.

When my own kids were in elementary school, at a good quality suburban school, by the time they were in third grade they were dividing up their kids into dumb and smart. You’re dumb if you’re lower tracked, smart if you’re upper tracked.

Think of what that does to the children. It doesn’t matter where they’re tracked, the children take it seriously… If you’re caught up in that it’s just extremely harmful. It has nothing to do with education.

Education is developing your own potential and creativity. Maybe you’re not going to do well in school and you’ll do great in art. That’s fine. What’s wrong with that? It’s another way of living a fulfilling wonderful life, and one that is significant for other people as well as yourself.

The whole idea [of ranking] is harmful in itself. It’s kind of a system of creating something called “economic man.” There’s a concept of economic man, which is in economics literature. Economic man is somebody who rationally calculates how to improve his own status (and status basically means wealth).

So you rationally calculate what kinds of choices you should make to increase your wealth, and you don’t pay attention to anything else. Maximize the number of goods you have, cause that is what you can measure. If you do that properly, you are a rational person making informed judgments. You can improve your “human capital,” what you can sell on the market.

What kind of human being is that? Is that the kind of human being you want to create? All of these mechanisms- testing, assessing, evaluating, measuring- they force people to develop those characteristics… These ideas and concepts have consequences…”

~Noam Chomsky~

More on the idea of “economic man“…

“In economics, homo economicus, or economic human, is the concept in many economic theories of humans as rational and narrowly self-interested actors who have the ability to make judgments toward their subjectively defined ends. Using these rational assessments, homo economicus attempts to maximize utility as a consumer and economic profit as a producer. This theory stands in contrast to the concept of homo reciprocans, which states that human beings are primarily motivated by the desire to be cooperative and to improve their environment.” ~ Homo economicus (Wikipedia)

Related Reading:

Self-Direction is the Key to Mastery  *  The Bait and Switch of School Reform  * Why Corporate School Reform Will Eventually Fail *  Children Need to Be Free to Learn *  Common Ingredients of Successful School Reform * Flow- The Psychology of Optimal Experience * Understanding How Our Brains Learn  * Toward a More Creative & Holistic Model of Education * Real Learning is a Creative Process *  Every Child is an Artist by Nature * Educational Malpractice – The Child Manufacturing Process *

“One of the most distressing characteristics of education reformers is that they are hyper-focused on how students perform, but they ignore how students learn.” ~Diane Marie

“Research from both within the United States and other countries suggest clearly that high stakes testing does more harm than good… We should completely abandon the idea of test-based accountability, that is, get high stakes standardized testing out of education, do not use it to evaluate schools or teachers. Second, we need to return autonomy to local schools and teachers. Let educators do their job and provide support. The government, both federal and state, should work on providing equal funding for schools and eradicate poverty, instead of interfering with teaching and learning, and adding bureaucratic burden on educators and students. Finally, we should invest in education innovations to encourage educators and local schools to seek creative ways to deliver an education for the future…” ~ Dr. Yong Zhao

“What is education for? Is it for pouring facts and formulas into students’ heads, or is it for creating learners? Research shows that an environment that emphasizes evaluation and testing creates a fixed [achievement] mindset. That is, it sends the message that intellectual abilities are fixed and that the purpose of school is to measure them. Students come to see school as the place to look smart and, above all, not look dumb— not a place to create and learn.” ~Carol Dweck, Ph.D.

“Creating a society that goes against human nature is what creates the suffering… We live in a completely unnatural society, that actually tramples on what it means to be a human being. That’s the essence of suffering, and there are so many ways in which our society does that.”  ~Dr Gabor Mate

“The purpose of the school is not just to raise test scores, or to give children academic learning. The purpose of the school is to give children an experience that will help them grow and develop in ways that they can be successful, in school and as successful adults. They have to grow in a way that they can take care of themselves, get an education, take care of a family, be responsible citizens of the society and of their community. Now you don’t get that simply by raising test scores.” ~Dr. James P. Comer; Comer School Development Program


About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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102 Responses to Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Testing

  1. Pingback: The Art of Machiavellian Education Reform | Creative by Nature

  2. Pingback: Factory Model Education “Reforms” Were Designed for Product Testing, Not Children | Creative by Nature

  3. Pingback: This Yale Psychiatrist Knows How to Shut Down the School to Prison Pipeline: So Why is He Ignored? | Creative by Nature

  4. Pingback: Noam Chomsky – Dangers of Standardized Testing | Markparkinson's Blog

  5. wilma salas says:

    Testing the students, especially, the written ones, are designed without gjving consideration on how an individual student would feel as a human being. Through stsndardized testing, students are treated like industrial products that must be calibrated for auality control before they’d be out into the market for lublic consumption. It, standardized test, degrades students, they are simply reduced into a commodity.

  6. Pingback: Noam Chomsky: O štetnosti ocjenjivanja i rangiranja učenika i nastavnika – Alternativa Informacije

  7. ciedie aech says:

    In the name of “progressively” pursuing educational progress, have we now altered our goal to that of simply limiting any unwanted educational progress?

  8. Denise says:

    We all know this is not good yet we continue to allow this to happen. We, the people need to demand this stops. Now.

  9. Pingback: Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Tes...

  10. It seems to be a needed evil though since there is such an issue with literacy & numeracy in this country. How else will you be able to rank proficiency of how well schools are doing, if there is no standardized, normed testing?

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  13. Julie Ann 💕 says:

    Reblogged this on Keeping the Peace Mom.

  14. Wei says:

    In my opinion, I think grade ranking system is auctually helpful in some respects. However, I still agree with Chromsky’s ideas. Auctually, the system itself is artificial and it can not help teacher to improve the ability to help students to explore their potential interests in some areas. Like the professor has said, the goal of education is not what students has learnt but wether they has the ability to learn the new things. Then I difinitely agree with the proposal about enconomic people which is used in the business area . The grading system will inevitablely encourage students to choose the lessons which will improve their grades rationally. It’s not good for their improvement because when they decide which class they will take they may not select the one they really interest in . But before we have another better way to evaluate the ability of them, the grade system is still the important for us.


  16. Roma Kumae says:

    Excellent . There is a need for REVOLUTION IN EDUCATION where all of such ideas can b made to stare at the faces of POLICY MAKERS n CAPITALISTS who have made education and learning a saleable product . Poor public trusts educationists and govt to arrange things for them while they Labour to pay taxes . But one is only preaching and other is ignoring . Who suffers …public …masses .Who gains ….business men ….money makers .ALAS!!!!

  17. Pingback: Noam Chomsky o štetnosti ocjenjivanja i rangiranja učenika i nastavnika |

  18. As a retired teacher, I agree with all of Chompsky’s ideas on testing. Teachers have learned to teach to the test and not how to teach children to think and create. What a shame we have fallen to this low point in education. Children no longer receive an education, they simply learn how to be good test takers. Very sad!!!

  19. Pingback: What Type of a Person Do We Nurture with Standardized Tests & Quantifying Students?

  20. Pingback: Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Tes...

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  23. anithasuseelan.s says:

    testing is required to identify the child where she/ he stands then only the the teacher can provide his assistance to children

    • Chantelle Rush says:

      Baloney…. a good teacher knows exactly what a child’s strengths and weaknesses are without having to test them. Tests are a waste of time. They stress kids out and turn them off learning. This is why I have left teaching.

  24. Gowramma I P says:

    Very true. I completely agree that performance is not an indication of anything. All assessments fail until we understand the learner. Giving autonomy to school and teachers and developing a learning society is the only answer. We have to go back at least 50 years in time line to bring back schooling of those times.

  25. Audrey Hynd says:

    A word to Head teachers and trusts.Give more help to teachers by letting them decide what’s best for their students they know what they are capable of.I read that we are very short of teachers at the moment I am not surprised teachers are not staying in teaching as they are not supported by their heads as they should be.Look after our good teachers take their side and help them instead of hinder then we will get better respect and results from students.I find this article very interesting why won’t the one’s at the top listen.

  26. Pingback: Education of the Spirit | Creative by Nature

  27. Pingback: Music to Our Ears: A Test We Should Teach To – maelstrom

  28. Jim Peschke says:

    Wow! That was written by Noam Chomsky? I’d always heard he was a smart man, but it didn’t sound that way. The reasoning was pretty awful. Not to say that high stakes testing is a good idea, but his prediction of the consequences is ridiculous hyperbole. I’ve read far more enlightened and logical arguments against testing from complete nobodies.

    Just thinking about all of the conclusion-jumping in his article makes my ankles hurt.

    • Ola says:

      Just out of curiosity, are you somebody? And what makes people complete nobodies? Do you know of any test people can take to place themselves on how much somebody and how much nobody they are?

    • Jon Mellor says:

      Identify his conclusion jumping in detail and we’ll discuss. So far, he’s pretty sound to this ex teacher.

      • Jim Peschke says:

        Still waiting for you to discuss. I’ve identified his conclusion jumping three months ago.

  29. Jim Peschke says:

    Conclusion jumping in detail? Ok, here we go…

    “there’s a strong tendency to require assessment of children and teachers so that you have to teach to the tests”. Non-sequitur. Many teachers simply don’t comply. Tenure makes their jobs safe.

    Continuing: “That’s guaranteed to destroy any meaningful educational process”. Complete balderdash. Its not ideal, but to suggest that these requirements “destroy any meaningful educational process” is childish hyperbole not supported by any empirical evidence.

    In fact, the entire paragraph is rubbish. Required assessments simply don’t produce anywhere near this level of doom and gloom among competent teachers or students.

    “…you don’t have to assess people all of the time”. That’s called the Straw Man argument. Nobody is advocating for constant assessments, simply periodic assessments.

    “The assessment is completely artificial”. How exactly is this so? If you’re teaching arithmetic, how is testing a child’s ability to add numbers “completely artificial?”

    “Its not ranking teachers..”. Another straw-man argument. The purpose of the tests is to determine how well students have mastered subject matter.

    “So you are giving some kind of a rank…the ranking itself is harmful”. Conclusion jumping not supported by previous statements. “Its turning us into individuals…” More hyperbole and conclusion jumping. Most students and many teachers do not care enough about these tests for this to be the case.

    I could go on, because every paragraph contains similar nonsense. This from a supposedly educated intellectual is doubly disturbing.

    Those of us paying for public schools will insist on some modicum of quality control. Deal with it.

  30. Goran says:

    The article is really amazing. Tests and ranking of students have negetive impact on the process of education and educating a moral person. Students mostly are ready to cheat in the exams and assignments just to get a few marks more. But the one million dollar question is that is there an alternative to standerized tests? How can we know a student learned the subject and another not?
    I think in spite of the fact that it has negative impact but we do not have a better option. I would appreciate I; someone shows me a better option for standardized tests

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