Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A shallow victory

Holy smokes!  La Cañada did pretty good on the standardized tests as reported by the California Department of Education.  Traditionally, La Cañada Unified is a superstar when it comes to achievement tests.  This is a credit to our teachers, support staff, administrators and a pro-active board of education.

This means we can re-finance our house, as our property values will not be plummeting anytime soon.  I might even be able to afford my daughters’ cheerleading uniforms.

If you know me well, you know what’s coming next, so let’s get this out of the way at the onset:  Standardized achievement tests are a marginal predictor of student success and a static determinant of a school’s accountability to the process of educating.

So, as we break open the champagne bottles, remember it’s a shallow victory.   

Standardized testing doesn’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What it measures is isolated skills, specific facts and function, which are the least significant aspects of learning.  Learning and teaching doesn't fit into bubbles. I don't think a simple pencil-and-paper test is going to capture what students know and can do.

How do we define student success?  Is it building better test takers, or competency in skill acquisition?  Is achievement defined quantitatively?  Or should we be developing productive citizens who can conceptualize ideas, think critically and, according to Plato, maintain the moral base thus ensuring the continuance of civilization.

The state wants performers.  Pure performance feeds the dictates of a socially and culturally regressive society.  We can teach children the mastery of testing and the regurgitation of information. That’s a good-looking suit, but an empty one.  Performers without an ethical, intrinsic and intentional make up do not define an educated individual.  I know you know this. Standardized tests do not evaluate the entire person.  So what’s the big hoop-la?

I was having a brain freeze trying to finish this write when my wife, Kaitzer, sashayed into the room and handed me “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day” by Dr. Seuss.  “Read it,” she said; “It’s the perspective you seek.”

The story takes place at Diffendoofer School.  Diffendoofer teaches its students the basics; however, it also teaches, “Tying knots in neckerchiefs and noodles and how to tell chrysanthemums from miniature poodles.”  In other words, it gives students the opportunity to explore unique ideas, interesting perspectives, but most importantly, it teaches students how to think.  Well, there you go!

Diffendoofer is about to take their version of the STAR achievement test. So the children are a little tense. Miss Bonkers tells them not to fret, because: “We’ve taught you that the earth is round.  That red and white make pink.  And something else that matters more…we’ve taught you how to think.” 


Of course there’s a pragmatic perspective to testing.  It gives us a benchmark, but it’s hardly the best thing since canned beer.  Testing presents a myriad of postulations most of which do not enhance holistic learning.  Do districts teach to the test in lieu of enhancing children’s intellect?  Do we place a false sense of accountability on teachers?  Does a single test on a given day create an “A” team and a “B” team, thus stigmatizing a child as inferior?  Do we reduce a child’s dream to something that they’re not, thus taking away their quest because of a test?

I don’t remember taking such tests when I was a kid.  We were the Age of Aquarius, and we did OK.  We fought for peace, freedom, civil rights, and we joined the Peace Corps and the Marine Corps.  Regardless of how we did on standardized tests, we had a dream and we did our best.  That’s more important.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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