This is a reprint of an article originally published on Cooperative Catalyst

I was reminded of an interesting tidbit about the Finnish school system in one of the education news emails I receive the other day. This information has been out for a while, but these two sentences stood out for me during my most recent re-read:

Finnish children never take a standardized test. Nor are there standardized tests used to compare teachers or schools to each other.”

Then, I remember the Goslin & Glass study on the social effects of Standardized Testing from 1967 that opened with, “An individual’s self-conception, at least in the United States, strongly depends on his evaluation of his intellectual abilities.”

Then, I think about the messages that American children are fed via the media, their parents, their teachers and, eventually, from their peers that in order to be successful in America, you must attend college.

Which got me to thinking…could we be inadvertently creating self-fulfilling prophecies in our youth and international rankings when our intention is to do the opposite?

The definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as defined by Wikipedia, is “in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come ‘true’…In other words, a prophecy declared as truth when it is actually false may sufficiently influence people, either through fear or logical confusion, so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy. ”

Think of what this does to our kids.

For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to leave out the self-fulfilling prophecies that we know exists in many of our underprivileged kids who, because of their family’s financial position, start to believe—in many cases, before they take the first standardized test in 2nd grade—that they won’t ever be successful because they don’t have the means to go to college. Or the period in high school when many kids realize—sometimes for the first time—that their parents cannot afford to send them to college and they are left with the choice of saddling themselves with an enormous amount of financial aid/debt to put themselves through university or entering the workforce without a college degree. A choice that they have had burned on their brain since they were in diapers means societal perception of an individual’s success or failure. But I digress…

So, all of the people and entities that kids look up to as authorities have been hammering home the message of “college attendance = success” since the child was in diapers.

Fast-forward to second grade, when mandatory skills assessment testing begins in public schools. The kids have their current impressionable mindset amplified as they start to believe they are a part of the “unsuccessful” group because of (1) their own test scores versus those of their peers, (2) messages they start receiving from their teachers as a result of these tests, and (3) whispers from parents about their enrollment in “low-performing” schools.

Lather, rinse and repeat for each consecutive year until the SATs—the “mother of all tests”—when kids are handed another score. A score which has been associated since I attended school more than 20 years ago not just as a predictor of which college you could potentially attend, but a predictor of potential success in life.

If you look at state skills assessment reports broken out by grade levels (2-6; 7-8; 9-11), the scores continue to fall as the students progress through school.

I really wonder what would happen if we once again postponed mandatory skills assessment testing until middle or high school. Would our scores start to rise as we put a damper on students’ self-fulfilling prophecies? I think so…how about the rest of this group?

To our kids’ collective success,
Jen Lilienstein

Have U.S. Students Fallen Victim to Self-Fulfilling Prophecies?