Teaching Profession Opinion

Stop the Madness of High-Stakes Testing

By John Wilson — October 22, 2012 2 min read
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I took the time to read many of the letters that were written by teachers and parents to President Obama through a campaign organized by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. While I was not thrilled with the timing of this campaign, I could not ignore the pain expressed by too many teachers and parents, pain resulting from ill-conceived policies at the local and state levels enabled by financial incentives from the U.S. Department of Education as well as waivers from the broken No Child Left Behind law.

I believe it is time to declare that basing teacher and principal evaluation, student promotion, merit pay, school closures, and graduation on a single test score resulting from a single day’s assessment has been and will continue to be a huge failure. The madness of high-stakes punishment tied to high-stakes testing must be stopped. The unintended consequences of emotional distress among students, cheating by stressed-out teachers and administrators, suicide by even a single student or teacher, resource discrimination based on zip codes, and the dissuasion of great educators from accepting assignments in high-poverty schools are all prices too high to pay for what little value may come from these policies.

These policies were conceived in a corporate mentality without any consideration of educational research. The volatility of test scores among groups of students is well documented yet ignored by those who embrace this high-stakes mentality. Even worse, politicians embraced high-stakes outcomes before providing for high-quality tests. That was madness. Now we have a mess to clean up.

As we develop new tests to measure the Common Core Standards, let’s work to make them instructionally friendly. As a matter of fact, let’s design and implement them for one purpose only: to drive high-quality instruction. Let’s make sure that teachers have access to a huge database of test questions from which to draw so they can regularly assess how well their students are doing in mastering these new standards and so they can make course corrections and personalize their instruction.

It is time to restore both the joy of learning and the joy of teaching to America’s classrooms. It is time to integrate 21st century skills into the core curriculum. It is time for teachers to evaluate and test their students’ progress in an authentic way. It is time to trust teachers and hold them accountable to exemplary teaching practices. It is time for America to provide, as it once did, the best education system in the world.

We can do this, but first we have to admit we were wrong with these high-stakes policies and laws. The best time to do that is today.

The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed 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.