As a young adult, which was by now many, many moons ago, I was drawn – goaded, really – into what was for me a very intense war of words (repeatedly) on the subject of SAT tests. My tormentor was a childhood friend of my father’s, so he had the superior position of age and knowledge and wisdom on me, but not experience with the sense of falling shy of expectation, as either parent, student or teacher.

The subject of “standardized tests” was controversial even then, though the debate focused largely on SATs even while there were several other rafts of such beasts.

The reason was then as now, that it was these particular tests that were understood as essential constrictors, funneling students into school and career paths as a function of issues that were unknown and variable.

It was not until long after matriculating college that it began to feel legitimate to confront the tyranny of these tests. Some element of “sour grapes” infused an individual’s experience in the beginning, which time rendered if not moot then at least less acute. I had found their judgmental paradigm to be very upsetting and the consequences quite derivative (unannounced scholarships, school rejections) of my sense of what they should be – predictors of “success”. Having passed from their “cone of influence” emboldened the urge to articulate their trauma.

“They don’t test anything” I would assert hyperbolically, meaning, I suppose, that they did not somehow reflect academic or intellectual “worth” accurately. “Nonsense”, bellowed the family friend. “How can you say they don’t test anything; of course they test something…”. A rhetorical trap that just raised my dander. But then came the truism that is in fact profound: “They test what they test!”

Right there in a nutshell, is encapsulated the history and raison d’etre of standardized tests. They test what they test.

Flash forward a half century or so and a “Smarter-Balanced” refinement has come not in the quality of the test but in its breadth in order to validate the underlying concept of itself, not the derivative one of its value. In order for such a construct, for this kind of test itself to be meaningful, it must be invoked as a comparative metric, administered nationwide as a function of … what it tests. Not some external Truth. Like, say, Education. Standardized testing is: a test of the test.

This imperative has been codified in the Common Core – formerly known as “Common Core State Standards” (CCSS). The disingenuous reference in the moniker to the foundation myth that this initiative was borne of the States themselves has quietly been dropped of late. The program – and its tests – are referred to now simply as “Common Core” (CC). The program promulgates a set of tests standard across states as the means to measure and monetize education among inhabitants of states individually, and between states as a collective unit of measure (think: Race To The Top).

Why? Why must we bend an existential truth like Education to be an absolute, estimable parameter? Because we can. Because someone said we can.

This is a problem in search of a computer array to solve it.

Whoever said it was necessary to compare students between states? One answer might be: those who will benefit from doing so. Is that students? No. Sitting multiple, time-consuming exams testing what a student is presumed already to know does not facilitate a student’s primary job – to learn. If they know the material already, the test won’t teach it to them and if they don’t, it won’t either: the test benefits the student not at all. And in spending time gazing at the navel, there is significantly less time remaining simply to grow it.

Post-secondary schools? No; its admissions officers have long regarded these tests skeptically, as at best, only one of a broad range of indicators. Current teacher? No. Any present and connected teacher will know a student’s deficits already; a standardized test is not of, by or for the teacher. Current school? Possibly – it does seem the only conceivable benefit of such tests could be as a metric of teachers in their proficiency of laying out that which is dictated worthy of standardization. Parents? No. Like teachers, there is nothing about a standardized test that is relevant to one intimately connected with the individual student, one’s child. Moreover there is no facility for determining what is tested, so it is useless to a parent.

It remains as an exercise for the reader, then, to identify the remaining stakeholder/s. These entities associate closely with they who proselytize most for the tests’ adoption.

Another answer is sometimes invoked: where Education is unevenly acquired is where civil rights are abrogated. Therefore elucidating comparative education deficiencies is a matter of civil rights. The trouble is that the methodology employed completely ignores the role of interaction of secondary parameters with this test-of-the-test. That is, for example, the lens of culture, or mitigating circumstances such as poverty. Administering the same test to everyone may result in a true comparison of how that test is answered by everyone, but there is no indication that the test is understood by everyone in the same way or that everyone has the same capacity to understand it in the same way.

Worse, the methodology ignores the cardinal sin of social sciences, over-simplifying outcome: Association Is Not Causation. Measuring whatever these tests measure is no surety whatsoever that characteristics associated with such measures in the past, will remain associated in the future. Because an educated elite earned more money and attended college in the past, does not mean a different set of college attendees will earn similarly. But why earnings is an appropriate outcome associated with Education has never from the outset, ever been justified anyway.

As a distant third argument, it is sometimes argued that there is a problem with the rigor of some States’ standards, necessitating standardization. But there is nothing to prevent calling those specific states to task for insufficient Rigor. In fact this would be a lovely example of, or way to “mirror”, “accountability”. No need to reinvent the wheel when straightening a spoke will do. If States’ education standards are wanting, encourage them to improve. Standardization and its attendant testing, is superfluous to this issue.

But this effort is not, despite claims to the contrary, about the presence of sporadic substandard Standards. The CCSS initiative is about promulgating a test with perfect internal consistency – a test of itself. To that end, is also the goal of standardization across states – toward the end of having the test test what it tests, accurately. This alone would improve the validity of the test because there is little of external consequence that is sensibly standardized.

Awesomely circular, isn’t it?

Note that the political education establishment likes to portray CC as a fait accompli, a done deal, a horse that’s left-the-barn. Common Core is a New Normal suffused with teachers who love the program and families desperate for it as a panacea, a ticket to… where, the vanishing middle class?

This is far from reality as a very short traverse through the blogosphere will show. There are dozens of facebook pages loaded with thousands of shocked and worried teachers and parents from all sides of the aisle. There are numerous erudite and learned professional warnings. The imperative for this change, so inexpertly and so broadly subjected, is simply not there.