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v14_2003e - 4 HOW NATIONAL COMPETENCY EXAMS AFFECT...

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Journal of Public and International Affairs , Volume 14/Spring 2003 Copyright 2003, the Trustees of Princeton University http://www.princeton.edu/~jpia 4 H OW N ATIONAL C OMPETENCY E XAMS A FFECT I NTERNATIONAL P OLITICAL C ULTURE Roger Dowd Roger Dowd is a Masters of Arts candidate, Global Studies, at the Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver ([email protected]). This paper assesses the functions performed by the examination regimes in national educational systems worldwide. These functions influence a nation’s political culture through socializing ideological values, holding schools accountable, and in many cases, reinforcing the existing class structure. The paper then suggests that true political reform is contingent upon meaningful educational reform, and that close scrutiny of a nation’s examinations system is essential to both.
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2 Standardized testing has been a “hot button” issue in the United States for the past decade. More and more states are electing to have level tests of student competencies at regular intervals, with some states actually opting for exit testing at the end of their students’ school careers. Though such decisions have been made at the state level until now, there is increasing discussion of devising a national competency exam that would test abilities in key areas such as math, English, science and social studies. The issue is an extremely political one. Questions of fairness, elitism, test bias, and the potential use of exam results activate powerful political interest groups such as concerned parents, teachers unions, disadvantaged school districts and university admissions teams, among others. However, national competency exams (NCEs) have been a reality throughout the rest of the world for years. The exams are structured differently and serve different functions from country to country. This paper does not examine the standardized testing issue in the United States specifically, but obvious parallels can be drawn from the political ramifications studied in cases worldwide. Since NCEs will tend to drive a nation’s entire curriculum, they can serve as agents of political socialization. That is, a state’s government can expect that teachers will deliver the curricular material that will be tested on an NCE, and therefore everyone in the nation will be subjected to that material. Thus, NCEs are perhaps one of the most effective ways to “indoctrinate” a populace with a certain set of knowledge and beliefs. It is then worth examining national competency tests as a means of political socialization and investigating their effects on a nation’s political culture. A number of questions may be asked in such an investigation, including: What does a nation want its citizens to know, and how does that nation’s political culture manifest itself on the exam?
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3 How does a nation select its future elites, and how do NCEs reinforce the existing class structure in that country? How do NCEs affect attempts at educational, political and economic reform in a country?
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