Testing a Conspiracy Theory

by Dan Quinn

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott raised eyebrows last month when he and State Board of Education members engaged in a discussion of the intense focus on testing students. Scott, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, called the overemphasis on testing at the state and local level a “perversion” of what accountability proponents had intended.

You might be surprised to know that religious-right groups also haven’t been big fans of state standardized tests. But over-testing hasn’t been their concern. We found in our files a Dallas Morning News article from March 5, 1996, (“Criticism about TAAS puzzles some officials,” no link) about opposition to the state’s standardized test at the time. Here’s an excerpt:

Kelly Shackelford of the Rutherford Institute says many of his clients think the tests are really a tool for “liberal, educratic elitists” who want to monitor students’ values and undercut their religious beliefs.

For example, in 1992 a state-administered test used a reading passage and graphs on the number of followers of different religions around the world. The parents complained that the question was designed to make all religions look equal, therefore undermining their children’s Christian beliefs.

They are also concerned that the questions ask children for their personal beliefs and that those beliefs may then be used against the students if they don’t conform to educators’ values.

“These questions are being asked in a secretive atmosphere,” Mr. Shackelford said. “A lot of people think it’s an attempt by these folks … to use the government to affect the minds of students and their belief systems.”

Some parents are afraid that the state is using opinion questions to spy on their children.

“Whoever has access to these students’ tests is of great concern to parents,” said [Cathie] Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum. “How do we know it’s not going to be shared with businesses? If a child has emotional problems when he’s 10 and he goes to apply to work at a large corporation when he’s 21, they’ll have his whole history.”

Have mercy. Tests are the secretive tools of “liberal, educratic elitists” engaged in anti-Christian, mind-controlling, school-corporate conspiracies? We’re kind of disappointed that Shackelford and Adams didn’t warn parents about the black helicopters delivering those subversive tests to schools across Texas.

You want to know what’s really scary? Shackelford — now head of Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family — and Adams — once again head of Texas Eagle Forum and recently chair of the Texas Republican Party — continue to wield political influence over Gov. Perry and substantially more than a few state lawmakers.

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