The United States has moved towards an even greater emphasis on standardized testing in our school systems during the last decade. This has been controversial and caused an outcry from parents, students, and teachers who think too much testing can be a bad thing. Now critics are getting support from a foreign country.  South Korea, one of the world’s leading nations in education, is moving away from its reliance on testing towards a broader education approach.

Byong Man Ahn, the former minister of education, science, and technology in South Korea, said that an emphasis on testing can be harmful. His views from his March 25 keynote address at the annual meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy were quoted in the following Education Week article.

“Although the pain of memorizing is unavoidable for young students to acquire new knowledge, they should also be motivated by the pleasure of creative expression,” Mr. Ahn told the audience. “However, we force the students to memorize so much that they experience pain rather than [the] pleasure [of] acquiring knowledge through the learning process.”

Ahn also talked about the damage that can come of parents who put too much pressure on their children. Parental involvement is, of course, essential to a child’s education, but it looks like too much can be a bad thing.

South Korea is a top performer in international assessments, and it’s a model admired by President Barack Obama. But Ahn said that the United States should be careful of giving South Korea too much credit. South Korean officials are trying to focus less on testing as they also reduce the number of required courses in their schools.  They want to give students more freedom to choose which classes they want to take.

Testing is an essential component of any properly functioning school system. There must be a way to measure student achievement, and sometimes grades aren’t enough. However, testing is just one tool that schools should be using, and it looks like overreliance can be counterproductive.