John Oliver Reveals the Absurdity and Insanity of High Stakes Testing in the United States, and what are other countries doing

07 May

American students face a ridiculous amount of testing. In the video, John Oliver explains how standardized tests impact school funding, the achievement gap, and how often kids are expected to vomit from the stress caused by these high stakes tests that can destroy a child’s life, get teachers fired and public schools closed.

Ask yourself this, who profits?

In addition, Assessment  Around the World (to read the complete article, click the link. The rest of this post is a summary of a piece published by Educational Leadership) reveals how NCLB and its high stakes testing fit in an international context. Here’s what’s happening in the rest of the world.

“Standardized testing is controversial everywhere, regardless of its purpose. Most countries use testing for tracking and for selecting students for admission into academic secondary schools or universities, but generally not for holding educators accountable. Many countries don’t even administer standardized tests until the later grades. In fact, most Canadian universities don’t require the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or other standardized admissions tests—except for students applying with a U.S. high school diploma!” (Ghosh, 2004)

Testing Practices in Other Countries (from Educational Leadership)

The following examples from England, Turkey, Germany, Singapore, Japan, China, and Finland illustrate how these countries manage these issues.


Like the United States, England holds educators accountable for students’ scores on standardized tests, although major differences exist between the two countries’ accountability systems.

Only England—home to the mighty testing giant, Pearson (a profit based, private-sector corporation) that started investing heavily in the U.S. market the year before NCLB mandated the impossible—holds teachers accountable for students’ scores on standardized tests. The test-based accountability policy remains highly controversial and raises issues similar to those currently discussed in the United States. A major question is the validity of using test scores, which are strongly influenced by students’ socioeconomic status, to evaluate the quality of education. This problem is endemic in national and international test score comparisons.

In fact, “Because in every country, students at the bottom of the social class distribution perform worse than students higher in that distribution, U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.” – Economic Policy Institute (Conclusion: Teachers in the US and UK—thanks to lobbyists from Pearson influencing elected representatives—are being punished for children who live in poverty. The more high stakes tests, the more profits Pearson robs from taxpayers who support the public schools in these two English speaking countries.)


Turkey’s heavily bureaucratic and centralized education system is modeled after the French system.

Examinations in Turkey are first administered at the end of basic education, although they influence what schools teach long before that. These exams determine admission into the prestigious Anatolian and science high schools, which accept approximately one-quarter of the students who take the exam. Students who wish to enter a university must take another nationwide exam at the end of high school; but because demand outweighs available spaces, acceptance rates are low (around 20 percent). Because of these conditions, Turkish students experience “some of the world’s worst exam anxiety” (Simsek & Yildirim, 2004, p. 165).


Germany has a highly stratified education system that tracks students, generally beginning in grade 5, into three types of schools: … Teachers and parents—not an examination—determine a child’s placement.


In Singapore, educators are only held accountable for their students’ test scores in the sense that secondary schools and junior colleges are ranked in publicly reported “league tables”; the 40 highest-ranked secondary schools receive cash awards. But this “accountability” system bears little resemblance to NCLB in the United States.

The main purpose of testing in Singapore is to determine student placement in the education system and access to elite academic programs—not to evaluate teachers.


Japan has a highly competitive examination system, but it doesn’t hold educators accountable for students’ scores on standardized tests.


For many centuries, the Chinese have viewed their country’s examination system, which dates back to the Shui dynasty in 603 CE, as the main route out of poverty for a child from a low income family. However, like Singapore and Japan, China is attempting to reduce its reliance on rote learning. Realizing that examinations inevitably drive classroom practice, China has revised its highly competitive university entrance exams by requiring students to integrate knowledge from a wide range of fields.

Chinese students face a highly competitive and stressful examination system that doesn’t hold teachers accountable for student test scores.


In high-ranking Finland, the national ministry of education plays no role in teacher evaluation. Instead, broad policies are defined in the contract with the teachers’ union. Teachers are then typically appraised against the national core curriculum and the school development plan. Finland, of course, is known for having no standardized testing, obviously then making it impossible for it to be used as a tool for teacher evaluation. – NEA

Note: None of the nations surveyed by OECD use standardized tests to measure teacher effectiveness as bluntly as the United States does. Wariness over the misuse of test scores runs throughout the school systems in most nations – an acknowledgment that they cannot provide a complete picture of teaching quality and that multiple sources of evidence are required (many countries include parent and student surveys as well as classroom observations, and peer and principal assessment).


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

Crazy is Normal promotional image with blurbs

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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3 responses to “John Oliver Reveals the Absurdity and Insanity of High Stakes Testing in the United States, and what are other countries doing

  1. drext727

    May 7, 2015 at 05:33

  2. Isidro

    June 12, 2015 at 21:04

    Everyone in America should see this. It opened my eyes to the horrible crime taking place in America that is hurting our children and teachers.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      June 13, 2015 at 07:27

      Thank you. It would help if you sent a link to this John Oliver video to everyone you know and ask them to do the same thing.


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