This is about as succinct an argument against standardized tests as I’ve come across yet. Written by William Wraga, a professor in the program in educational administration and policy at the College of Education, University of Georgia, it’s in response to the cheating scandal now rocking the Atlanta Public School System, and it clearly lays out the case that we are not doing much to assess our kids’ knowledge OR promote a learning disposition when we use them.
Research has found that when high-stakes tests are used:
1. Educators will teach to the tests.
2. Curriculum narrows to that which is on the test.
3. Instruction narrows to skill-drill test prep.
4. Academically disaffected students are more likely to drop out of school.
5. The pressure to raise scores in the face of severe sanctions increases the incidence of unethical behavior.
Research has not found sufficient evidence to support the notion that implementing high-stakes tests will improve student learning. In short, research suggests that high-stakes testing accountability measures not only will not improve education, but also may actually undermine education. Why would we enact a policy that would do that to educators and students?
Even without the research, this isn’t rocket science, is it? Very little of what we test is useful knowledge to any individual child, and we basically have no idea to what extent students can build on that knowledge nonetheless. It’d be nice if we trusted teachers a bit more to do that.
(Do take a moment to read this reply to get the gist of the dysfunction in our thinking about this. The system is just doing a horrible job of teaching critical thinking, obviously.)