WASHINGTON—Citing the need to measure student achievement as its top priority, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new initiative Thursday to replace the nation’s entire K-12 curriculum with a single standardized test.
According to government officials, the four-hour-long Universal Education Assessment will be used in every public school across the country, will contain identical questions for every student based on material appropriate for kindergarten through 12th grade, and will permanently take the place of more traditional methods such as classroom instruction and homework assignments.
“By administering one uniform test to our nation’s 50 million students, we can ensure that every child is evaluated by the exact same standard, regardless of background, age, or grade level,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, explaining that students will be able to take the test at any time between age 5 and 18. “It’s absolutely crucial for us to know where our kids stand, and eliminating the teaching model will provide us with the most affordable and efficient means of measuring student proficiency.”
“By doing away with the overly complex program of full-length school days and lessons stretched out over 13 academic years, we can concentrate on increasing the reliability of our data and determine just how each student stacks up.”
“There is no better way to ensure consistency in America’s schools,” Duncan added.
The new test will reportedly cover all topics formerly taught in K-12 classrooms, including algebra, World War I, cursive penmanship, pre-algebra, state capitals, biology, letters of the alphabet, environmental science, civics, French, Newtonian mechanics, parts of speech, and the Cold War. Sources said students will also be expected to demonstrate their knowledge of 19th-century American pioneer life, photosynthesis, and telling time.
“By doing away with the overly complex program of full-length school days and lessons stretched out over 13 academic years, we can concentrate on increasing the reliability of our data and determine just how each student stacks up,” said Patrick Herlihy, an education researcher who helped design the test. “This is the best, most comprehensive way yet of holding our schools accountable.”
“This initiative also has the potential to help level the playing field,” Herlihy continued. “Kids in Mississippi, for example, will have literally the exact same educational opportunities as kids in Massachusetts.”
Officials confirmed the test will consist mostly of multiple-choice questions, though it will also include an essay section in which students will be able to choose from one of several prompts, ranging from “Describe the American system of federalism,” to “If I could be any animal in the world, I would be a…,” to “Write a book report on Lois Lowry’s The Giver.”
Jeff Escudero, a 10-year-old from Winamac, IN who plans to take the test and hopefully complete his primary and secondary education next month, admitted to reporters that the new standardized exam was a source of stress for him.
“There’s a lot riding on this,” Escudero said. “Still, I think I’m pretty set. I just have to learn the periodic table, be able to explain what triangular trade is, and remember that it goes egg, larva, pupa, butterfly. It’ll be hard answering all those questions about Richard III and the New Deal, but at least I’ve already got the numbers up to 20 totally memorized. And once I’m done with the test, I won’t have to go to school anymore.”
Officials said the initiative would also focus on improving teacher performance by tying teachers’ salaries to the test scores of the students they hand the assessment to.