If you want to invest in a real growth industry, you may want to consider companies involved in standardized testing. According to a writer in the New York Times, students will take 45 million exams this year, and that doesn’t include the SAT and similar college gateway tests.

With the huge growth in the reliance on bubble sheets, however, it seems some of the large testing firms are not doing such a hot job. Several companies over the past year have fouled up the writing and processing of hundreds of thousands of tests, some even having to pay large fines for their errors.

But grading mistakes by big companies (making large profits) are not the only problem with this all-testing-all-the-time policy. And not even the biggest one.

The cost to administer and process all the tests has also ballooned, forcing states to change the tests to make them cheaper and faster to score. Multiple choice forms are much less expensive to score than those with essay questions or ones requiring evaluation.

The result? “Many of the tests that states are introducing under N.C.L.B. contain many questions that require students to merely recall and restate facts, rather than do more demanding tasks like applying or evaluating information,” Mr. Toch writes in his study, which can be found at www.educationsector.org.

And that is the bottom line. Rather than trying to teach kids to understand, analyze, and evaluate information, the underfunded requirements of NCLB are rapidly leading to assessments asking them only to spit back facts.

And, as has been noted in many corners of this debate – on both sides – what gets tested, gets taught.

Connecticut is one of several states that has decided to fight the federal Department of Education over this issue. On their state tests they want to continue to include those harder-to-grade items, like essays, that give a better assessment of student learning.

However, in order to afford that more expensive approach, they want to test kids every other year.

As you might expect, the feds will have none of that, with Secretary of Education going so far as lecturing state officials on their responsibility in a local newspaper.

I remember, not more than a few months ago, how Madame Spellings was telling everyone who would listen how flexible she was going to be about the provisions of NCLB. Those were the good old days.

nclb, connecticut, standardized test