As we stated before, the Learning Game, is a relatively new book by Ana Lorena Fábrega and a very worthy read for every teacher, parent and education administrator. In this third article on this book, we take a look at its evaluation of standardized tests and we make a comparison with Montessori’s views on assessments in general. 

Fábregas 3rd chapter is titled, How Tests and Rewards go Wrong. For now we will focus on the first part, and our next article will be on the second part. Let us state up front: we fully agree with her position  on standardized tests.

The Learning Game reminds us that standardized tests were introduced about 100 years ago. Initially, it was a positive tool that provided useful information,  but in the late nineteen sixties, standardized tests achieved ‘ importance within the system’. Since then, its importance has increased to an absurd level, where they have now become the whole point of the education system.

We will now list how standardized tests hollowed out education since then, according to Fábrega.

1. It mostly measures test-taking abilities, as opposed to knowledge and skills.

2. Students repeat grades, enter gifted programs, earn scholarships, and get into college, all based on standardized test scores.

3. Teachers lose their jobs and public schools lose funding when students don’t perform on these tests.

4. Schools are victims of Campbell’s Law, according to which, “Measurements destroy learning when they’re set up as a goal”. 

5. Standardized tests create poor learning environments. “Kids spend much of the year in test prep instead of engaging in authentic learning experiences.”

6. Tests can compromise the mental health of students. Every teacher and parent knows  of this terrible affliction. Education has been turned into periodic bouts of anxious terror. 

7. Tests do not reflect whether a student will succeed in the real world. Cases are plentiful of highly successful individuals who were unsuccessful at school and or dropped out of school.

8. Tests incentivize corrupt institutions. “Kids, parents, teachers, schools, districts, and even states have been caught falsifying results”.  In addition, some schools are known to force out weak students in order to improve the schools’ chances to improve overall standardized test scores.

9. Students feel set up for failure.

Montessori has written a profound critique of assessments.  In her view, Student work should be judged as a ‘product of life’ and not as ‘inanimate matter’. In other words, as authentic (real) work instead of work for the sake of work.  

The following passage covers a key insight of hers on the issue. “And on these marks the future of the student depends. So study becomes a heavy and crushing load that burdens the young life instead of being felt as the privilege of initiation to the knowledge that is the pride of our civilization.” And, “ The young people are formed into a mold of narrowness, artificiality and egotism. What a wretched life of endless penance, of futile renunciation of their dearest aspirations!” These statements from Montessori are from her book, The Discovery of the Child. How profound are these passages? They home in to the core issues, namely, the true needs of the child, as well as the need to articulate education with the achievements of human civilization.

Maria and Girl
The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori

Where to go from here?

The Learning Game proposes a way forward out of the vice grip of standardized tests. The key lies in making standardized tests less important and to find multiple ways to measure student progress. This should include portfolios, but it would be vital to find ways to empower students to show what they have learned in a way that suits their style.

Maria and Girl
M. Montessori

  Of course we can extend the views on standardized tests to include all tests and exams. The problems with standardized tests as indicated by The Learning Game, are fully in line with our Montessori perspective. The solutions recommended are in line with Montessori views, except that the Montessori Movement abhors all assessments, in favor of the alternate ideas, and more, put forward by Fábrega. Montessori’s words on this are highly instructive, and we share them, “My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification from the secondary school to the university, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual”.

Overall, this is an excellent treatment of a very pertinent issue in education and a worthy read in the original. Look out for our next post in which we will focus on Fábrega’s views on rewards in the classroom.

You can also enjoy our video on the same topic on our YouTube Channel here: An 'F' for Standardized Tests: On The Learning Game


Video clips and music are thanks to Clipchamp and Vimeo.

Some images are from Photo Vibrance

Maria and Girl
The Learning Game by Ana Lorena Fabrega

Here is the link to The Learning Game on Amazon.  ttps://