Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Education, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Charles J. Fazzaro, EdD.


Matthew Davis

Kathleen Sullivan Brown

E. Terrence Jones


The practice of “standardized” testing has been embedded in United States federal education policy since at least the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. First and foremost, for a test to be “standardized” the knowledge tested must be assumed to be “true”—universally accepted as being outside the bounds of values. This enquiry recognizes that the primary purpose of American public education has been to prepare students for the fundamental political office of citizen. Citizens must ideally be able to make informed political judgements utilizing the full spectrum of thought—knowledge in its broadest sense including knowledge unbounded by values. Fundamental to U.S. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech is freedom of thought. This enquiry reveals that the practice of using government mandated standardized achievement tests of knowledge in American public schools is antithetical to the type of education necessary to prepare students to exercise their right to freedom of thought in order to make informed political judgements. Unbounded political judgement and freedom of thought necessitate that students utilize a wide variety of what Lyotard, following Ludwig Wittgenstein, refers to as “language games” and requires access to multiple viewpoints. Standardized testing, on the other hand, allows for only what Lyotard notes as the denotative (true/false) cognitive language game and privileges the views of certain individuals and groups. Standardized testing constitutes what Lyotard calls a differend, is totalitarian in nature, and represents a politics of the intellectual. The practice advocates a particular “Truth” sanctioned by the government and effectively silences teachers, students, and local school districts through terror. The government, through standardized testing, operates as the “majority” language game. In order to redress the differend, future enquiry ought to consider policy and practice that would enable American public education to be consistent with the American democratic ideals.

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