NCTM Relaxes Stance on High-Stakes Testing

By Sean Cavanagh — January 31, 2006 1 min read

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has adopted a softer tone on high-stakes testing that recognizes the need for many forms of assessment, but also warns of their limitations.

In a statement issued in January, the influential Reston, Va.-based organization says such tests should be combined with “more concrete sampling” of student performance, such as classwork, projects, and interviews with students, as well as tests and quizzes. The NCTM also seems more accepting of those tests’ potential, when used correctly, than it was in a policy statement in 2000.

Then, its official policy said that using a single, objective test for determining high school graduation or grade promotion was a “serious misuse” of those exams. The overall movement toward high-stakes tests, the organization asserted, marked “a major retreat from fairness, accuracy, and educational equity.”

The new policy says tests should be balanced against other measures of student performance and further says they “are useful and important tools” as long as the tests are considered with other measures. But too many tests today, it continues, focus on multiple-choice questions and “simple mathematical outcomes” rather than problem-solving, a point reiterated by NCTM President Cathy L. Seeley in an interview.

Since the federal No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, the testing “landscape has changed pretty dramatically,” Ms. Seeley said, “and we wanted to reflect that.

“We were trying to be clear and constructive,” she added. States that administer math exams face financial pressure to keep them in relatively simple formats, she acknowledged, but “the tests themselves have to be high-quality.”