Perils of Current Testing Mandates

By Petress, Ken | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Perils of Current Testing Mandates

Petress, Ken, Journal of Instructional Psychology

Mandated testing is not working as advertised. Too much classroom time and energy is being spent on tests that do little to measure or instill in our students the skills and knowledge needed for their later life. Corruption and political manipulation of the testing process and test results further add to questions about the use of such testing. Teachers, students, and parents are being uduly stressed out by these test mandates and schools are overburdened by their cost.


Recently, school districts, state education authorities, and the federal Department of Education have promulgated rules and procedures greatly increasing the frequency of student testing in the schools of America. The amount of time used to prepare for such testing and the testing itself occupies an alarming proportion of class time for teachers and students. This article posits the belief that such testing is counterproductive due to its frequency, content and question style, and stress it places on students and teachers. It is apparent that results are being used by many politicians eager to be seen as "education friendly" to voters in scurrilous ways and that advancing students' learning is not being achieved as advertised.

President George W. Bush's "No child left behind" program now mandated across the nation was heralded as a means to provably and measurably improve student academic performance and to increase student retention rates. This program is modeled after Dr. Ron Paige's program when he headed Houston's, Texas Education Department. The program looked promising as Mr. Bush became President; however, soon thereafter, complaints about the program from teachers, students, and parents began to surface. Complaints centered about matters of lack of teacher preparation in administering and evaluating the tests; the enormous time such test preparation and administration took away from class instruction; and students exhibiting debilitating evidence of testing fatigue.

In 2004-2005, evidence of testing fraud by administrators and teachers in order to achieve "satisfactory" or better results is emerging. Teachers fabricating results, changing test pages, and inappropriately prompting students during test taking; school administrators making (and in many cases being enabled by state and federal rules) decisions as to what constitutes student drop outs, failure, and exemptions from such testing in such ways as to advantageously and outrageously manipulate test achievement records for individual students, schools, and school system advantage. Some of these manipulating measures border on, if not actually are, criminal. One school district held back 40% of its 3rd grade students so it would not have to give these low achievers the important 4th grade achievement tests. Some students have been held back more than one year even though they achieved high class grades over the year. (1) Retention rates were manipulated by creatively defining jailed students as non-dropouts. (2) Many other students with marginal learning disabilities were characterized as exempt from regular testing and therefore were not included in testing statistics thus making a class or school seem better prepared than reality suggests. (3)

The troubling aspects of excessive class time spent on tests, the increased stress to teachers and students, the fact that many teachers concentrate on teaching the test rather than on material classically assumed to be the proper substance of class time, and the corrupt teacher, school, and system practices now being reported are alarming enough; but there is an even more alarming feature of this mandated over testing: it is highly questionable in terms of educational validity.

Mandated tests are all similar--not exactly alike--in that they are objective in form; mostly multiple choice, true-false, and fill in the blank in style; and tightly timed in administration. For each item, there is a single correct response; no deviation is allowed or expected. …

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