To the Editor:
Last November, while laying out his education plan in a speech at a New Hampshire high school, Sen. Barack Obama said, “Don’t tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend most of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test.”
Since the 1960s, a select group of educators has sought to dispose of standardized tests in favor of more “user friendly” projects and portfolios. While alternative assessments can be useful in displaying student effort or growth over time, they are woefully inadequate when it comes to demonstrating what children actually have retained. Despite educators’ efforts to evaluate students through other means, standardized tests remain the best way to assure parents and teachers that a child has mastered a given body of information.
Through standardized tests, teachers can gauge the effectiveness of their work and use the results to improve education in their classrooms, instead of languishing in the same bad teaching practices. Standardized testing brings accountability into America’s schools. Good teachers should have no qualms with accountability, because they already are accomplishing their jobs successfully. Standardized testing compels all teachers to raise their standard of learning.
Anti-testing educators argue that students may do poorly on standardized tests because they have test anxiety, come from bad homes, or are of a certain gender, placing the blame for bad test scores on factors outside a student’s control. Unfortunately, saying that tests are “unfair” for these children only teaches them that failure is inevitable because they are a member of a certain group, not because of what they know.
Anti-testing educators may assume that they are sheltering children from possible disappointment by eliminating standardized tests; they argue that if no children take the test, no children will fail. But in truth, these educators are conveying to children that success is not guaranteed, so students should not give effort, which is a far more damaging lesson.
Sen. Obama should think twice about the consequences of removing accountability from classrooms and undermining the abilities of American children.
Grove City, Pa.
A version of this article appeared in the October 22, 2008 edition of Education Week as Does Standardized Testing Help More Than It Harms?