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Did you finish school before 2002? John Oliver explains how tests got a lot worse since then.

"Tests are supposed to be an assessment of skills, not a rap battle on 8-Mile road."

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John Oliver devoted an entire segment of "Last Week Tonight" to taking on the idea of standardized testing.

Nothing sets off anxiety in the heart of a grade-school child more than the worlds "standardized testing." It's the bane of any student's existence. And recently, students, parents, and teachers alike have begun pushing back on the ever-increasing number of tests kids are subjected to.

Around the country, you'll find stories like these (and hundreds more), and it's happening without regard for political affiliation:


Growing up, most of us probably remember taking a test or two each year. But that's not the case anymore ... not by a long shot.

It turns out that kids are basically in standardized test mode constantly. And when you're busy cramming for the material that's likely to pop up on a test, you're not able to really learn.

To which Oliver responded:

Where did all these tests come from? To answer that, we need to go all the way back in time to 2002 for No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind is a 2002 act of Congress that pushed standards-based education reform and set guidelines for the distribution of federal money for schools based on performance.

Former President George W. Bush in 2001 on what must have been "take your commander-in-chief to school day."

While No Child Left Behind was supported by virtually every politician in office at the time, it's become something most try to hide from — even though it's still in effect.

Whether you're looking at people on the political left or right, a "yes" vote on No Child Left Behind has become a stain on their record.

It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 384-45.

It passed the Senate by a vote of 91-8.

(I challenge you to find major legislation that Congress can agree to at that rate these days.)

And so that brings us back to today. How do we measure progress? Tests. Lots and lots of tests.

And this is where No Child Left Behind led us astray.

In Oliver's segment, he highlights that the number of federally mandated tests has nearly tripled as the result of No Child Left Behind. Tripled!

And this doesn't even take into account all the state-level tests that students have to take.

But what's wrong with tests? For one, it creates a high-pressure atmosphere for students where they might not actually learn much.

People have questioned whether "teaching to the test" is really the best use of students' time. Also, when students are constantly put in high-stress situations, it's simply not a healthy environment.

Did you know that some test administrators are instructed on what to do if students vomit on their test booklets?

This doesn't even take into account the otherwise great students who simply aren't good test-takers.

Oliver showed a clip of a girl who was kicked out of her advanced language arts class after getting a low score on one of her standardized tests. It was absolutely heartbreaking.

These test-based standards hurt teachers, too.

Teachers are often graded on how much students' test scores improve over the course of a school year.

If standardized tests aren't good for students or teachers, who are they good for? Simple: the companies that make them.

A handful of companies have a hold on the country's standardized test industry, and this extends far beyond just school-based tests.

Of course there's money to be made. Of course there is.

With more and more parents opting out of tests, John Oliver offered those companies a challenge: Fix it.

This story first appeared on the author's Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

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