Educational Tests Worth Keeping

Article excerpt

It's unusual to spend more than 10 minutes talking with the parents of a school-age child and not hear about testing. Next to smaller classes and safe schools, testing has become one of the most discussed education issues of the decade.

Parents, teachers, and students are all talking about the time spent taking tests, and the greater emphasis schools are placing on test scores. Judging from the tenor of the discussion, it appears that a backlash has emerged against testing. There are calls to modify state assessment programs and, in some cases, to do away with them.

While some modifications may be in order, I hope the backlash isn't strong enough to eliminate many of the new state education reforms. If we get rid of the tests, we won't have a way to measure the academic standards on which they are based. And we'll lose our ability to hold schools accountable for results.

In the 1980s, many of our governors, educators, and business leaders looked at the poor performance of our students in relation to their peers abroad. Our students' failure to measure up to the rest of the world spurred the development of education standards. To measure these standards, the states created challenging new education assessments.

Now as the standards-based education movement is taking hold, these assessments are being used in most states. As a result, parents, students, and educators are seeing the real "teeth" of the reform: tough, challenging assessments. They're also seeing teachers introduce equally challenging curricula to help prepare students.

None of this is meant to suggest that the new state testing programs are perfect. Most of them are new and many of them may need some modification. But the long-term future of the new reforms will depend upon the states' ability to do it right.

First, states shouldn't rely on one proficiency test to make a "high stakes" decision on failing a child. …