Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Returning The Phrase "High Stakes Standardized Tests" Back To The Education Vernacular

Politicians learned long ago that how you frame an issue goes a long way toward how the public feels or thinks about something.

For a long time, the GOP used to fight against the "estate tax."

But the word "estate" conjured up images of Mr. Howell from Gilligan's Island in people's heads, so getting rid of the "estate tax" faced some headwinds.

Then they discovered that if they renamed the "estate tax" the "death tax," people got a different image in their heads - something about how everybody who died would still have to pay taxes - and people started to support the move to get rid of the "estate tax," now renamed the "death tax."

Same issue, different name, different result in how people felt about it.

And so we come to how the word "test" has been replaced in the education vernacular by "assessment," a move that education reformers will tell you has no ulterior motive behind it but is just a better way to describe what schools do to "assess" student skills and knowledge.

Ah, but the word "test" has a negative connotation in people's heads, especially if it is paired with the phrase "high stakes" - so much so that back in the early Bloomberg administration, when Chancellor Klein wanted to add formative tests to the other tests students were taking, he called them "no-stakes tests" so that people wouldn't rise up in anger against them.

You can bet the people running education reform understand message framing and word choice just as well as the political operatives do (especially because education reformers and political operatives are often one and the same) and they came to understand that the public might feel differently about "tests" if the name were changed to something more benign, something missing those hard "t" sounds - something like "assessment."

Nice soft "s" sounds lull you into a state of one with the universe - there's nothing major going on here, they're just "assessing" things. There are no "high stakes," with those hard "k" sounds that jar you into anxiety, to worry about in these "assessments," so don't worry, go back to sleep, all is well with the universe...

I think it is time we stop using the euphemism "assessment" and bring back the old word we used to use - "test."

Especially when there are "high stakes" attached to the these tests.

I'm not a p.r. person and I only have a few psychology classes under my belt, but I bet you will see a shift in public perception if we call these "Common Core assessments" the "high stakes standardized tests" they really are.


  1. What about the continual usage of the term educator that. Has replaced teacher. They refer to Arne Duncan a non teacher as an educator.

  2. ...or Michael Mulgrew as a non-representing union boss.