Resolved: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions.

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Resolved: In the United States, colleges and universities ought not consider standardized tests in undergraduate admissions decisions.

FIrst topic of the year! And wow is it trash. Not only is the topic phrasing awful, but I also don’t understand why it’s an LD topic at all. This topic doesn’t pose interesting clash, and it’s phrased in such a way as to have an agent of action that is incredibly difficult to evaluate as a moral agent. Not only that, we’re skirting around the actual issue of whether or not we should have standardized tests at all. It’s awful, but I suppose it’s what we have to work with. So let’s get to it.

Definitions

Standardized Tests – We all know what standardized tests are. They’re tests given to all students to measure their educational progress. The tests are all the same, with the same questions, given to each member of a particular subset of students. There’s no reason to get caught up in any sort of nuance here.

Every other term in the resolution doesn’t really merit definition. We all know what colleges and universities are. Don’t get caught up in the distinction between public and private institutions; it ultimately doesn’t matter to the moral question, in fact now a days there’s a lot of options, there are even online colleges for military available.

Your key focus here should be determining how we evaluate what colleges and universities should do. In particular, you need to explain how we determine what factors these institutions should take into account for undergraduate school admissions. Unlike government, the moral imperatives of educational institutions are not well elucidated. Importantly, I don’t think most students will have a preliminary understanding of the philosophy of education, unlike they do with social contract philosophy, for example. I would recommending reading this entry for some background.

Case Positions

Affirmative

  1. Distributive Justice – Research widely suggests that standardized tests have socioeconomic and racial biases. This is to say that people who are poorer and people of color consistently perform worse on these tests than their wealthy white counterparts. Not only that, the entire industry is being shown to be less about evaluating students’ actual competency and instead about corporations making money. Since the first virtue of any social institution is to uphold/promote justice, colleges should do that which promotes justice. Using standardized tests as criteria in admissions directly violates principles of distributive because of the above points. Since colleges are social institutions, this would violate their primary directive. Many different justice theorists like Aristotle and John Rawls can be useful for this position.
  2. Autonomy – One of the most widely accepted theories on the purpose of education is that it is supposed to equip people for becoming autonomously functioning human beings. Standardized tests are the exact opposite; they seek to rob individuals of autonomy by evaluating everyone against the same standards. Since the purpose of education is to promote autonomy, colleges should reject anything to do with standardized tests altogether.

Negative

  1. Economics – Colleges are primarily economic institutions. Their goal is to create individuals who can best contribute to society and its economic welfare and productivity. As such, standardized tests should be a primary criteria for admissions decisions because they are a strong indication of an applicant’s economic viability. If a student has high standardized test scores, they are likely to continue having high test scores throughout college. This is economically beneficial and also a strong indication that the student will have a positive economic contribution once they graduate. Importantly, the most economically productive countries like China and Japan have doubled down on standardized testing, having even more rigorous examinations than the United States.
  2. Justice – The first virtue of any social institution, including colleges, is fairness. Standardized testing is the most fair way we can have of evaluating students. Importantly, upholding the importance of standardized tests sets an objective universal standard of educational justice for the entire system to uphold. This encourages every level of the system to eliminate barriers to students succeeding on standardized tests, which improves fairness across the board.

Well, that’s it for now. Good luck! And don’t forget to check out the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Resolved: In United States public K-12 schools, the probable cause standard ought to apply to searches of students

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Resolved: In United States public K-12 schools, the probable cause standard ought to apply to searches of students

This topic seems interesting, and it should be, if it’s debated properly. The landscape is pretty broad and allows for a lot of direct clash. There are also some interesting questions about where the Constitution does and does not extend to, the answers to which could be use to frame a pretty dynamic debate.

Definitions

k – 12 schools – Pretty straightforward, this includes all K-12 schools, public and private. We’re also excluding all post-secondary education like colleges and technical schools.

Probable Cause Standard – This is the 4th amendment standard used to determine if an officer can conduct a search of a person. The officer must have probable cause to suspect that a crime has occurred, at which point a prior warrant is no longer required to search an individual’s person. For example, if the officer sees blood on the hands of someone during the search for a murderer, then that is probable cause to detain and search that person. Do not get caught up in debating what is and is not probable cause; that is not the issue in this resolution.

Searches of students – This includes all searches – lockers, person, vehicles, etc… The affirmative and negative positions must both apply categorically.

Case Positions

Pro

1. Constitutionality – Despite what many people think, public institutions like schools are not beyond the reach of the U.S. Constitution. The probable cause standard is a constitutionally guaranteed protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and it extends everywhere. It is unconstitutional to exclude students from this protection.

2. Moral Precedent – Student’s learn much more in school than just what they’re taught in class. A large part of their moral development also occurs in those hallways. If students are subjected to searches, then we establish a moral precedent that this type of policing is OK, and we create a generation of people who will be on the dangerous cusp of a slippery slope descending into a police state.

3. Reason – There is no compelling reason not to have the probable cause standard. Why would a search of a student be conducted otherwise? The only justification to search would be if you suspected the student of a crime, in which case there is probable cause. It would be pretty ludicrous to just start searching students for no reason.

Con

1. Constitutionality – The U.S. Constitution does not completely extend to public institutions like schools. There are special limitations in schools on things like speech in order to preserve safety and the sanctuary of the public space. To that end, the probable cause standard does not actually apply to students in schools.

2. Political Citizenship – Minors are not political citizens yet, and as such, the full protections from searches and seizures do not extend to them. They do not have the same political or economic rights as adults, and as such, there isn’t a justification to apply to probable cause standard to them.

3. Less Stringent Standard – Because safety concerns ought to be higher for children, a less stringent standard is more appropriate. The probable cause standard does not offer the appropriate flexibility for students to be searched if a security threat is suspected. Officials need to be able to respond quickly and with limited restrictions in order to ensure the safety of students.

Resolved: On balance, standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education in the United States.

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Resolved: On balance, standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education in the United States.

I’m not even going to bother talking about how terrible this topic is. Let’s just get into the arguments.

Definitions

Nothing in this resolution really needs to be defined. We all know what standardized testing is, and what K-12 education is. We also know what the United States is. The only thing to keep in mind is that you do, in fact, have to defend the actual standardized test that occur in the U.S. You cannot argue in a hypothetical world where standardized testing is carried out properly. The reason for this is the word “is.” The resolution is asking you to evaluate reality, not make a normative judgment about the ideal state of things.

The important thing here is to develop a framework which explains what being “beneficial” entails. If something is beneficial to education, what criteria must it fulfill?

Case Positions

Pro

1. Measurable Improvement – The mark of a strong educational system is its ability to measure improvement. There need to be objective metrics which evaluate whether teachers, schools, and students are improving and how they’re performing in relation to each other. Standardized test allow this to happen. They allow for the comparison of educational systems, along with longitudinal comparisons of performance. Additionally, they allow for the identification of areas of need.

2. Economic Benefits – Standardized tests economically benefit an already strapped education system. They are easy to administer, take less time, and are easier to evaluate. Therefore, they allow resources to go where they’re more needed.

3. Selection for the Working World – Standardized tests allow for an objective metric for post K-12 institutions to select students and employees. This is good for pre-secondary education because it allows schools to easily set standards, goals, and curricula.

Con

1. Preparation for the Real World – The mark of a strong education system is its ability to prepare students for the real world. Standardized tests prevent schools from being able to do that. They do not test skills and actual knowledge retention. Instead, they test irrelevant abilities of memorization and regurgitation. Not only that, there are entire companies dedicated to teaching techniques for effective test taking for these tests, rather than teaching actual useful competencies.

2. Finland – Standardized tests don’t actually create students who perform better on standardized tests. Finland is the #1 education system in the world, as ranked by the PISA standardized test rankings. The thing is, Finland’s education system doesn’t have any standardized test. The only multiple choice individual tests Finnish students ever take is this test for international ranking. Otherwise, their system is based entirely on group activities and collective learning. So, standardized tests actually waste a large amount of resources in the U.S. because schools focus on creating students who can do well on these tests, but they go about it the entirely wrong way. It’s a really strange self-defeating cycle.

3. Fish Can’t Climb Trees – Einstein had a famous quote about how you can’t evaluate how smart a fish is by asking it to climb a tree. Standardized tests do exactly that. They try to evaluate everyone using the same metric, which is dumb, because people aren’t all the same. If you ask all the animals to climb a tree, of course the monkeys will excel, and the fish will fail. Therefore, you destroy what an education system actually ought to be, a mechanism to foster and evaluate the actual skills of students. Standardized tests are destructive.

I hope that helps you get started. Good luck!