The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

11 problems created by the standardized testing obsession

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Ron Maggiano is a veteran teacher who won the Disney Teacher Award for innovation and creativity in 2005 and the American Historical Association’s Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for outstanding K-12 teaching in 2006. After a 33-year teaching career, he resigned last year from West Springfield High School in Fairfax County, Va.,  where he taught social studies. In this post last year, he explained why he was leaving a job he had long loved:

I can no longer cooperate with a testing regime that I believe is suffocating creativity and innovation in the classroom. We are not really educating our students anymore. We are merely teaching them to pass a test. This is wrong. Period.

Now Maggiano offers the following 11 problems that the obsession with high-stakes testing in school reform is causing in America’s schools.

1. The obsession with high-stakes standardized tests is stifling creativity and imagination in the classroom.
–- The overemphasis on testing has led many teachers to eliminate projects and activities that provide students with an opportunity to be creative and imaginative, and scripted curriculum has become the norm in many classrooms. There is nothing creative or imaginative about filling in a bubble sheet for a multiple choice test. Students are so tired of prepping for and taking standardized test that some have protested by dressing up like zombies to protest — and thousands of families are opting their children out of taking high-stakes exams.

2. The obsession with test scores as the chief “accountability” metric for students, educators and schools has led to the exams becoming an end instead of a means to an end.
— In some states even the most severely disabled students are being forced to take standardized tests. In Florida, for example, one boy who was born without the cognitive portion of his brain has been required to take an alternative version of the state’s standardized exams.

3. Standardized tests are being used in high-stakes ways to evaluate and punish teachers.
— The Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative coerces states to use student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers even though the exams were never intended for this purpose and the results are not reliable indicators a teacher’s effectiveness. This “test and punish” approach to teacher evaluation has caused some schools and districts to ignore other factors affecting student achievement such as poverty and socioeconomic status.

4. The obsession with standardized testing by reformers is driving good teachers to leave their profession.
–Many teachers have become disillusioned with the time spent preparing students for, and administering, tests. Morale in the teaching profession is at a 20-year low.

5. The obsession with standardized tests is promoting a culture of cheating in many schools.
–Recent cheating scandals involving teachers and administrators in Atlanta and dozens of other cities have been directly linked to the pressure to raise test scores.

6. The obsession with standardized tests is driving teachers — fearful that their jobs will be stake if student test scores don’t rise — to teach to the test.
–Most educators agree that teaching to the test is wrong, yet this has become standard operating procedure in most classrooms.

7. When standardized tests are the most important thing, the fostering of critical thinking in the classroom gets short shrift.
— Rote memorization has become commonplace in many classes.

8. The obsession with raising student standardized test scores is leading to a one-size-fits-all curriculum that ignores the needs of individual students.
–Every student is a unique individual with their own talents and abilities. The standardized testing regime fails to recognize the importance of individual achievement in education and instead uses a “cookie cutter” approach to learning that ignores students’ individual interests and abilities.

9. Standardized tests are not helping to prepare students for college or careers.
— After more than a dozen years of the  No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top eras in which high-stakes tests have dominated, students are no more ready to do well in college than they were before — and many are less so. Corporate CEOs complain that students aren’t learning the kinds of skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace.

10. The high-stakes standardized tests used in U.S. public schools do not accurately measure what students have learned. 
— The kinds of standardized tests that have been used in U.S. public schools cannot assess critical thinking well, if at all. It is also true that many students do poorly on standardized tests even though they may have achieved mastery over the material. The stress of “test anxiety” can be debilitating for many students.

11. Standardized tests mostly benefit companies making millions from them.
— Companies such as Pearson Education and others have profited enormously from the testing obsession.