What is education for? Is it for pouring facts and formulas into students’ heads, or is it for creating learners?
At its best, was the U.S. educational system known for producing memorizers and test-takers or was it known for producing innovators?
I think we can agree that we want to create learners and innovators—people who seek challenges, stretch to learn new things, and bounce back from (or are even energized by) setbacks. If this is what we want, we are going about it in exactly the wrong way. High stakes testing may in fact be creating the very opposite in our students.
My research shows that an environment that emphasizes evaluation and testing creates a fixed 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. A fixed mindset also breeds low effort (because students believe that high effort advertises low ability), and poor reactions to difficulty (because they believe that difficulty also reveals low ability). These are not the habits of people who achieve or innovate in adulthood.