I confess that as a retired educator, I oppose high-stakes tests. Not tests in general. Not even standardized tests. Testing should play a role in instruction. Even standardized tests have value for making big picture decisions. My opposition comes from the extreme importance given to tests and the number of benchmark assessments given each year.
Although not all the ills of education can be blamed on state tests, I am convinced that many challenges can be traced back to the importance given to high-stakes tests. In fairness, I share the benefits as well as perceived damages.
What Benefits do Standardized Tests Offer?
According to “High Stakes Testing Pros and Cons,” standardized tests provide the following benefits. In a few cases, I added my own comments.
Proponents claim that standardized tests can help teachers plan based in individual needs. I do not think this is true. According to Alphie Kohn in “Schooling Beyond Measure,” standardized tests provide “faulty information” concerning individual learning. I fear that teachers get very little if any data on individual students from standardized tests.
Because the public gets access to test results, parents who want to shop for schools with high scores can make decisions based on test data.
Taking a large number of standardized tests helps students become proficient at test-taking. Maybe so. However, schools operate to prepare students to work successfully in the world. Being a good test-taker seems unimportant in the larger picture.
According to “Three Reasons Students Should Op Out of Standardized Tests,” state exams demonstrate inequities within district schools.
What Problems Result from Standardized Tests?
Perhaps the most significant damage comes from lost instructional time for academic subjects other than those tested—language arts and math.
In addition, children often lose recess. In case that seems trivial, children need movement in order to learn. Children also need time to play, time to relax and socialize with friends, and time to think and be creative.
Pressure to earn a required test score becomes stressful and destructive.
Consider ideas from “The Forum for Education and Democracy,” 2014.
Use criterion tests, developed by teachers, to identify each child’s level of mastery over specific items. Knowing which items a child did not master opens possibilities for individualized education. Technology makes this achievable.
Remove the stressful “high stakes” pressure from state exams by separating course grades, graduation, and teachers’ salaries from test results.
Reduce the number of norm-reference tests.
Replace benchmark tests with instruction over meaningful content.
Public education faces many challenges. The importance we give to standardized tests provides a challenge we can easily remedy. I hope parents, teachers, and grandparents will remind those in control that the role of assessment is to inform and guide instruction. The role of schools is to educate. Parents of children who actually enjoy the test will think twice about the amount of instructional time all children currently lose. We can solve this unintended consequence that currently haunts all who care about children.
Garland, Sarah. “Three Reasons Students Should Opt Out of Standardized Tests.” The Hechinger Report. April 2014.
Kohn, Alphie. “Schooling Beyond Measure.” Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH. 2015.
Munoz, Roberta. “High Stakes Testing Pros and Cons.” Education.com. 2014.