The Dangerous Consequences of High-Stakes Standardized Testing
Tests are called "high-stakes" when they used to make major decisions about a student, such as high school graduation or grade promotion. To be high stakes, a test has to be very important in the decision process or be able to override other information (for example, a student does not graduate if s/he does not pass the test regardless of how well s/he did in school). Currently, 17 states require students to pass a test to graduate, and 7 more are planning such tests.
Tests are called "standardized" when all students answer the same questions under similar conditions and their responses are scored in the same way. This includes commercial norm-referenced tests as well as state criterion-referenced or standards-based exams. They can include multiple-choice or open-ended (constructed) responses.
Research has shown that high-stakes testing causes damage to individual students and education. It is not a reasonable method for improving schools. Here are a few of the many reasons why:
1) High-stakes tests are unfair to many students.
Some students simply do not test well. Many students are affected by test anxiety or do not show their learning well on a standardized test, resulting in inaccurately lower scores.
Many students do not have a fair opportunity to learn the material on the test because they attend poorly-funded schools with large class sizes, too many teachers without subject area certification, and inadequate books, libraries, laboratories, computers and other facilities. These students are usually from low-income families, and many also suffer problems with housing, nutrition or health care. High-stakes tests punish them for things they cannot control.
Students with learning disabilities, whose first language is not English, or who attend vocational schools fail high-stakes tests far more frequently than do mainstream students.
Some people say that it is unfair to students to graduate them if they have not been adequately educated. But if students do not have access to an adequate and equitable education, they end up being held accountable while the system is not. States must take responsibility and be held accountable for providing a strong educational opportunity for all.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
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