Education used to be based around a personal understanding of each student and each student's progress, and students used to not pass grades if they couldn't do the work. We don't hold students back anymore because that might mess with their self-esteem (whatever), and we don't have enough teachers anymore to really get a personal understanding of each student (who could with over 30 students in a classroom), so instead of figuring out ways to really help our students in a less-than-ideal situation (too many kids per class from less than ideal homes with bitter, overworked teachers), the FEDERAL government stepped in (that's where things went really wrong), and started mandating testing before they would give out funds to school districts.
First, education is a state level issue so whenever the federal government gets involved things go downhill fast--because what backwoods Alabama kids need is not the same as what inner-city ESL kids need. Education is best handled at a local level.
Second, taking funding away from struggling schools has got to be the number one stupidest thing anyone has ever thought of. It was supposed to "encourage" teachers to improve test scores, which resulted in the things Rafe was talking about--panicked teachers who help the kids cheat, or yell/scream/pull their hair out, over the tests. The teachers care about getting the funding because they care about their kids and their jobs. When funding gets cut, teachers get fired, class sizes get bigger, and students suffer.
If you've ever heard of teachers talking with great bitterness about No Child Left Behind--that's why. More high-stakes testing with threats of funding loss and worse, your district getting taken over by businessmen. Nothing worse than that really, because education cannot be run like a business no matter how good it sounds when a politician is talking about it.
So--we have an incredible number of tests that take up and incredible amount of a teacher's time, and because there are so many of the lame things, our kids have stopped worrying about them. I thought it was interesting that his kids thought they meant something. In Utah, there are so many tests that the kids often fill in blanks to make pretty pictures, or fall asleep, or most often--skip school that day. It is impossible to convince students that the school's funding is worth them showing up to take a test that doesn't affect their grade because we don't get the results in time to even tell the kids how they did. The whole thing is LAME.
I'm not against testing--but the system is seriously sick in the testing area. And what makes it worse is that parents who have no idea what the tests are even designed to demonstrate, read about test scores and get all up in arms about the teachers not doing their job. Give me a break.