Rethinking Standardized High-Stakes Testing

By Moses, Lisa | Childhood Education, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Standardized High-Stakes Testing

Moses, Lisa, Childhood Education

Turn on the news, read the newspaper, open an education journal, and listen to politicians' sound bites. You will likely hear some familiar refrains about raising the bar, accountability, standardized testing, and tougher standards. Standardized tests are not new, but the stakes seem to be higher than before. Educators, academics, and politicians strive to find common ground as they face the daunting task of improving children's education. The six articles reviewed here reflect a growing trend among educators to take a deeper look at the implications of high-stakes testing on classroom teaching and, ultimately, on students.

GOALS 2000: What's in a Name? Ohanian, S. Phi Delta Kappan, 2000, 81(5), 344-355. Ohanian presents a stinging review of politicians' and corporate leaders' efforts to set goals for education in the United States, such as outlined in the A Nation at Risk report, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, and Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America's Public Schools, by Louis Gerstner, Jr., Chairman & CEO of IBM. Ohanian lists and critiques the goals of the Goals 2000 Act, for example.

Citing many examples of how high-stakes testing is abused, from poor test questions to publishers concealing scoring errors, Ohanian asserts that corporate America's heavy involvement in standardized testing has brought an unwelcome change. Previously, such testing was simply one gauge among many of a child's progress. The author sums up her perspective with the statement, "Somehow, while we were looking the other way, the politico / corporate / infotainment brotherhood has infiltrated our classrooms. This time, the sky really is falling" (p. 355). Ohanian raises many questions worth considering as we ponder the future of high-stakes testing.

MAKING THE GRADE. Miner, B. Progressive, 2000, 64(8), 40-44. Miner asserts that standardized tests are not likely to go away soon, despite growing criticism from educators (and many parents). She faults politicians, corporate leaders, and think tanks for advocating reform that relies on standardized tests as a gauge of academic quality. The author asserts that this reliance has devastating consequences. "It leads to a dumbed-down curriculum that values rote memorization over in-depth thinking, exacerbates inequalities for low-income students and students of color, and undermines true accountability among schools, parents, and community" (p. 40).

Miner mentions three books that support her views. Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture & What We Can Do To Change It by Peter Sacks provides a comprehensive overview of the history of standardized testing. Sacks draws a relationship between the early uses of intelligence tests and the current uses of standardized testing to support theories claiming that Northern European whites hold an intellectual superiority over other groups. Linda McNeil, in Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing, refutes through firsthand observations the idea that test-based reform will raise academic standards for students of color. The final book reviewed, Will Standards Save Public Education? by Deborah Meier, contends that the education crisis cannot be separated from a more fundamental social crisis.

EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION VERSUS HIGH-STAKES STANDARDIZED TESTING. Hilliard, A. Journal of Teacher Education, 2000, 51(4), 293-304. This article criticizes high-stakes testing as invalid, and contends that the misplaced focus on testing has allowed people to "ignore the well-documented importance of the quality of teaching as a key factor in student achievement" (p. 293). The author compares the views of quality teachers toward standardized testing with those of teachers who are less productive, and finds that they differ markedly. …

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