Monday, June 30, 2008

Let's Test the Candidates

No Child Left Behind's emphasis on one-size-fits-all standardized testing is a concern of many. But the remedy for this federal spree just may be the hair of the dog. In other words, require every political candidate to pass a battery of standardized tests to be eligible for office. If you don’t pass the test, you can’t join the fest. And to make sure no deserving individual escapes our net, we also will require aspiring high level government appointees, such as the future Secretary of Education, to also pass.

We could require every aspiring office holder to take the same tests he/she prescribes for others. Before being allowed to run for President, for example, Dubya would have had to pass the self-same tests he championed for high schoolers. Imagine him sweating and scratching his noggin. Similarly we could require every aspiring state Secretary of Education to pass the battery of tests they propose requiring of aspiring teachers. In Pennsylvania, for example, he or she would have to pass separate NTE tests in Reading, Writing, and Listening Skills, (The later would be a tough one for any politician.).

An alternate plan is to design office specific tests for those aspiring to high office. We could turn to ETS or the Psychological Corporation to craft enough items for multiple versions of the test since cheating would be a particular concern. Test items would be finalized only after a painstaking vetting. Blue ribbon boards would appraise and reappraise every question. In the end we might have questions roughly like these:

1. Given an unprecedented federal budget deficit, the best course of action is to:
a. borrow money to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure
b. cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans
c. privatize Social Security
d. tighten the nation's belt and spend only what we have

2. If an attractive intern offers oral sex a public official should:
a. quickly take him or her up on it before he or she changes their mind
b. be discreet
c. politely decline
d. ask them what they mean by "sex."

3. If, as President, you plan to have our schools emphasize “character education,” the best model to base the curriculum on would be:
a. J. Edgar Hoover
b. Richard Nixon
c. Bill Clinton
d. none of the above

4. If an attack against the US originated in Afghanistan, the best course of action would be to:
a. invade Iraq
b. invade Iran
c. invade Afghanistan
d. invade anybody

Admittedly, on a test such as this dishonest answers might be a problem. Safeguards clearly are required. One possibility is to administer the test while test-takers are hooked up to lie detectors. Imagine a candidate sweating and squirming as the polygraph relentlessly tells the tale. “Is that your actual answer? Is that your final honest answer?” (Philadelphia’s infamous late Duce/Mayor Frank Rizzo once failed a lie detector test while trying to prove the device’s reliability. Evidently the polygraph was more discerning than voters.) Alternatively, we could inject test-takers with scopolamine, a truth serum favored by secret policemen the world over. The test would be administered orally as the subjects drift guilelessly on a tripped out cloud.

Regardless of the method, however, we must be absolutely certain that our subjects are answering truthfully. And we should keep in mind that most of them would be unaccustomed to doing this.

That, in broad outline, is the plan. But it needs filling in. That’s where you can help. Tell us what you think. Should aspirants for public office take the same tests they prescribe for others, or should they be required to take brand new custom designed tests? If so should we measure wisdom, rectitude, practical knowledge, educational expertise, sexual cravings or what? And should we test just once, or longitudinally every year the person is in office? (Longitudinal testing has the obvious advantage of measuring whether or not the subject is improving while “serving.”)

You also might like to suggest specific test items. They need not be multiple choice as exemplified in this commentary. Any types of questions typically found on standardized tests are welcome. Rush your comments and suggestions to The Worm Turns Foundation, c/o Newfoundations, P.O. Box 94, Oreland, PA 19075, or post them here.

To examine these issues further, see articles at www.newfoundations.com

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