10/04/2010 01:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Obsession With Testing Is Nuts

Last year I exchanged emails with a high-ranking official at the US Department of Education. I complained that the accountability movement had gotten out of control, that too much time was spent preparing to take tests, learning to take tests, and taking tests, especially in low income districts. I said that the time spent on testing was reducing time for the arts, history, science, civics, geography, even physical education. Thus, kids have more tests and worse education.

His first response was "you measure what you treasure." I replied, "No, you cannot measure what you treasure." How do you measure, friendship, love, courage, honor, civility, love of learning? I suppose he was moved a little bit, because he replied, "How can we incentivize the teaching of the arts?" I should have given up then, but responded that you do some things not for economic reward, and not because they are utilitarian, but because they are right.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in an event sponsored by the Economist magazine in New York City. As I waited to go on, the previous speaker talked enthusiastically about why we should look to the arts and artists as sources of inspiration, creativity, and innovation. When my panel started (billed as a "debate" between me and Eva Moskowitz, founder of Harlem Success Academy), the first question was: "How do you envision schooling five years from now?" Eva spoke of individualization and personalization. I predicted, based on current policies in the US, that kids will be drilled endlessly for the next test. That the machinery will be in place to measure and test, driving out innovation, creativity, and divergent thinking. This is not wise and it is not smart.

It's a frightening scenario. I hope I am wrong. If there is not a major change in federal education policy, this is the likely outcome of where we are heading.