School & District Management Opinion

Standardized Testing Mythbusters!

By Anthony Cody — May 17, 2011 1 min read
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An excellent new book, “The Myths of Standardized Tests,” has hit the shelves, and its authors, Phillip Harris, Bruce M. Smith and Joan Harris, are taking a systematic look at the belief system driving current education reform.

They explain their outlook in the introduction:

We are referring to the barrage of standardized testing besetting our schools and districts. No Child Left Behind is only its most recent, and most punishing, incarnation. And the Obama administration's proposals for "amending" NCLB reflect a similarly misguided reliance on test scores as the primary measures of success for students, teachers, and the education system as a whole. For decades more and more tests have been seeping into our schools, sapping the energy and enthusiasm of educators and draining the life from children's learning. And while some of the motivation for this burgeoning movement is clearly commercial, it is at least partly driven by what we have come to think of as "the tyranny of good intentions."

We think every concerned citizen ought to be raising serious questions about the standardized tests used in their schools, about the decisions that are based on the outcomes of those tests, and about the potential for harm as a result of those published school "report cards." We hope to enable you to ask questions of the people who are making the decisions--as citizens first, but also as parents and educators yourselves.

Here are some of the questions their book poses - and is bold enough to answer:

Think back and ask yourself about the many ways most of us never pause to consider what's up with standardized tests:
• Have you ever thought about how well students' knowledge and skills can be assessed by the limited sample of content included in a forty-five- question test? What does a score on that test tell you about the vast range of content that simply can't be included? (See chapter 2.)
• Have you ever talked about the high achievement at a particular school when all you really knew about the school was the average test scores of its students? (See chapter 3.)
• Have you ever argued--or heard someone argue--that what we need is objective information about student achievement? For most people that word objective used in a school context automatically means standard- ized test scores and very little else. (See chapter 4.)
• Have you or your school system ever handed out punishments or rewards to schools, to teachers, or to individual children based on their test scores? How motivational are such practices? (See chapter 5.)
• Have you ever thought that improvement in scores on "high stakes" tests is a sound indicator of improvement in learning? (See chapter 6.)
• Have you ever wondered about whether the tests have an effect on the curriculum and on classroom life? Have you ever questioned what's left out to make time for the tests themselves and for the often extensive preparation for them? (See chapter 7.)
• Have you ever given more weight to an "indirect" measure (a standardized test score) of student achievement than to a "direct" assessment of achievement? Direct assessments range from judgments teachers make to your own reading of your children's work to the response of those who attend a school performance or a school open house. (See chapter 8.)
• Have you ever thought that moving to a district or attendance area with high test scores would mean high achievement and success in life for your children? How well do standardized tests forecast future success in school, of course, but also throughout life? (See chapter 9.)

These three scholars will offer their perspectives on these questions and more at a Save Our Schools March free webinar at 8:30 pm Eastern time on the evening of Thursday, May 19. You can register here.

What do you think of the questions the authors pose? Are we living in an age where the standardized test has taken on mythical qualities?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.