The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Has High-Stakes Testing Run Its Course?

on September 19, 2017

As Many readers already know, I am not a fan of high stakes testing.  I have never believed that “one size fits all” or that there is a fixed time schedule for all students to learn particular skills and information.  Two articles published in The Oregonian, our local newspaper, last week made me think that the high stakes tests given all around the country are on their way out.  I hope so.

In the eyes of outsiders far removed from the daily operations of public schools, it is easy to conclude that students’ test scores reveal the quality of education in states, school districts, and individual schools. According to an article in our local newspaper, The Oregonian, students’ scores around the state declined markedly from last year, which had also shown a decline. It was seen as a shocking event suggesting that public education is on its way out.

A few days later a follow-up from the paper’s Editorial Board took a different point of view, blaming parents for opting-out their children from the test and thereby causing most of the scores to be from children of low income families.  If all parents would act responsibly and insist that their lazy children  take the tests, our schools would look much better.

From my perspective, however, there are four other possible explanations for why students’ scores have shown a steady decline over the past few years:

  1. More and more teachers are concentrating their instruction on what they see as appropriate for the ages, needs and interests of their students rather than the demands of the “Common Core State Standards”, which were developed by non-educators.
  2. A one- size-fits all test cannot be appropriate for students country-wide when it is clear that local cultures, school practices, and student interests differ widely from place to place.
  3. Many students become bored, resentful, or frantic during a several hour test that demands constant attention and effort.
  4. In general, students do not care about doing well on tests that do not affect their class grades, promotions, or high school graduation.

I suspect that all these reasons are operating to some extent in Oregon and other states. But the one that appears to be most active here and now is the one named by the Editorial Board, but for better reasons.  Parents who read newspapers, listen to political commentators, and are also active in their children’s schools are well aware of the problems created by high stakes testing, and they don’t like them.  They resent the heavy-hand of school control by the federal government, the continual pressure on their children to meet standards that are inappropriate for their age level and– maybe—also meaningless, the year-long practice sessions preparing students for the  tests, the length and difficulty of the actual tests, and the pressure on teachers to teach specific skills and information in a certain way.

For many years all public schools—except charters– have been required to give the tests, in order to receive federal funding for various programs such as free lunches for children from low-income families. But all the hard work of teachers and students, all the test preparation, the public embarrassment, and even the closing of schools have not made a difference. Perhaps it’s time to return control of schools to their communities, to let parents and other citizens shape the nature of schooling, and to give students a strong voice in what is important for them to learn and when.

2 responses to “Has High-Stakes Testing Run Its Course?

  1. Don Bellairs says:

    Your use of the biased term “high stakes testing” belies your support of fair and adequate public education for every American child. Anyone who is advocating for state control of public education is not paying attention to the public health debacle.


  2. Frankey Jones says:

    Brilliant as usual.


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