Resistance to High-Stakes Testing Spreads: A National Resolution to Limit Standardized Testing Is Gathering Support

By Schaeffer, Bob | District Administration, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Resistance to High-Stakes Testing Spreads: A National Resolution to Limit Standardized Testing Is Gathering Support


Schaeffer, Bob, District Administration


Arising tide of protest is sweeping across the nation as growing numbers of parents, teachers, administrators and academics take action against high-stakes testing. Instead of test-and-punish policies, which have failed to improve academic performance or equity, the movement is pressing for broader forms of assessment. From Texas to New York and Florida to Washington, reform activists are pressing to reduce the number of standardized exams. They also seek to scale back the consequences attached to test scores and use multiple measures to evaluate students, educators, schools and districts.

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The nation's second-largest teachers union also took a stand recently against high-stakes testing, passing a resolution in July at its annual convention in Detroit that says the focus on standardized tests has undermined the United States' education system. The American Federation of Teachers approved the resolution unanimously, stating that testing should be used to inform and not to impede classroom instruction. "It's time to restore balance in our schools so that teaching and learning, not testing, are at the center of education," stated AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Test-driven education policies continue to force educators to sacrifice time needed to help students learn to critically analyze content and, instead, focus on teaching to the test. And students lose out on rich learning experiences when districts cut art, music, sports, social studies, science and other subjects to focus strictly on math and reading tests."

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Of course, opposition to high-stakes testing is not new. In the early years of NCLB and state-mandated exams, scattered boycotts of those tests took place in communities such as Scarsdale, N.Y., and Cambridge, Mass. What is very different in 2012 is the breadth and depth of the protests. Never before have large numbers of school board members, administrators, principals and parents stood up to challenge testing policies.

The current movement gained significant momentum, oddly enough, in Texas, the state where many high-stakes testing practices began. The catalyst was a January 2012 statement by Robert Scott, the former state superintendent of schools who left the office in July, in which he called the belief that standardized testing is the "end-all, be-all" of education a "perversion." Scott also labeled "the assessment and accountability regime" not only "a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex." Almost immediately, local school boards began endorsing resolutions charging that overreliance on high-stakes exams is "strangling" classrooms. So far, nearly 550 local school boards in Texas have signed on, including those in big cities such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio as well as those in hundreds of smaller communities. All told, these school boards represent districts that are responsible for educating 3.3 million Texas students, or more than half of the state's public school enrollment.

Meanwhile, in New York state, more than 1,400 principals from urban, suburban and rural schools signed a letter protesting the state's new test-centric teacher-evaluation policy. Their statement concludes with a reminder that a 2011 report by the National Research Council found that the past decade's emphasis on testing had produced little learning progress. A series of errors in writing, administering and scoring this year's New York State Regents exams accelerated the movement. Most notorious was "Pineapplegate" in which several questions on the exam about a poorly written reading passage titled "The Hare and the Pineapple" had no coherent answers.

A National Resolution Is Born

Responding to the enthusiastic embrace of the Texas resolution and educators' statements, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) spearheaded an effort this past spring to craft a statement that would appeal to a broader audience. …

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