Education Letter to the Editor

Improving the Tests Won’t Solve Larger Questions

February 28, 2006 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Education Sector’s report “Margins of Error: The Education Testing Industry in the No Child Left Behind Era” accurately analyzes the serious limitations of the testing industry’s products, documenting the sad reality that state exams overemphasize low-level skills and thinking, with harmful effects on teaching and learning (“U.S. Should Do More to Aid States in Developing Tests, Report Says,” Feb. 1, 2006).

But the report fails to grasp that modest improvements in test quality will not solve the larger problem that teaching to the test narrows and dumbs down the curriculum.

The report touts the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams. But MCAS reviews by the nonprofit Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education found that “the tests were very much like all the other standardized tests,” and that they “are likely to dampen student achievement by undermining quality.” Because the exams are “eminently coachable,” the group said, “test scores are likely to improve without much attention by teachers to genuine content.”

Similarly, teams of academics examined New York’s language arts, history, and science Regents exams, finding them low-level, often focused on trivia, and unrelated to college work.

Recently, I reviewed the MCAS and the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills language arts tests. For one section on each, I read only the questions, then answered eight or nine of the 12 items correctly. If I had gone back to skim the passage, my correct-answer rate would have been higher.

Last year, Achieve Inc. asked college professors what incoming first-year students need to be able to do in order to succeed. Most of their list cannot be assessed well by standardized exams: write extended works, critically read and respond to complex materials, reason scientifically, and be orally proficient.

If our nation is serious about high-quality education for all children, it cannot continue to mandate accountability programs tying high stakes to standardized tests. Rather than waste vast sums on more standardized exams, school systems, states, and the federal government should support professional development that focuses on classroom—and especially formative—assessment.

Monty Neill

Executive Director

National Center for Fair & Open Testing


Cambridge, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as Improving the Tests Won’t Solve Larger Questions


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by Learning.com

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: October 11, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: September 27, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: September 20, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education From Our Research Center What's on the Minds of Educators, in Charts
Politics, gender equity, and technology—how teachers and administrators say these issues are affecting the field.
1 min read
Stylized illustration of a pie chart
Traci Daberko for Education Week