Thursday, January 28, 2010

Argument Against High-Stakes Testing


High -stakes testing in the classroom of today has become a very controversial matter amongst all educational stakeholders. The focus of high-stakes testing policy has shifted from minimum competency to proficiency, an increasing number of states have held schools and teachers accountable for test results over the past two decades (Lee, 2008). With the introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, teachers have had to focus on helping students pass the rigorous standards in order to help them become proficient enough to pass the assessment. Over the past decade, many states have joined the test-driven school accountability bandwagon in the form of the “horse trade”: States would grant schools and districts more flexibility in return for more accountability for academic performance (Elmore, 2002).

Unfortunately, states that use high-stakes testing, such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or FCAT, as a means of assessing the proficiency level of a student are doing a disservice to all students since they are only receiving a snapshot of the student's actual academic knowledge.


High-stakes testing does not portray a student's full scope of learning and knowledge and should be eliminated from the educational system.


It is commonly agreed that classroom assessment over the course of a school year can provide a clear picture of a student's overall achievement and scholastic aptitude. However, when every stakeholder becomes equally responsible for a student's achievement on a high-stakes test situation, problems then begin to arise. Individual students may improve their reading or math achievement by 8% of 1 standard deviation (e.g., from the 50th to the 53rd percentile) relative to the national population of all students across states, when their own state switches to high-stakes testing or moves from weak accountability to strong accountability. This small amount of gain may translate into the equivalent of 2 to 3 months of learning, depending on their grade level; this is based on the estimated rate of academic growth per grade in NAEP reading and math (Lee, 2008). The American Psychological Association’s guidelines for test use (and the consensus of professional judgment in the field of educational testing and measurement) specifically prohibit basing any consequential judgment about an individual student on a single test score. (Elmore, 2002).

Using federal or state tax dollars to reward a school or to withhold funding for their individual academic achievement is wrong. It is inappropriate to make decisions about students or schools on the basis of a single measure of achievement (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Educational Measurement, 1999).

Unfortunately, high-stakes testing tends to favor schools in which students come from a middle-upper class clientele and can therefore perform more successfully on such tests. Testing reform does not go to the heart of the problem: the fundamental misdesign of schools, lack of qualified teachers, and the instability of the families and communities from which students come (Wang, Beckett, and Brown 2006). According to Wang, we are "reminded that tests alone cannot create improvement: A program of systemic change begins with the content standards. Rather than simply assessing these standards and reporting the information, the systemic change process also seeks to develop appropriate alternative instructional materials, alternative instructional and learning models appropriate to the desired outcomes, and the staff development programs or courses needed by teachers to make the shifts in the desired teaching and learning." (Wang, Beckett, and Brown, 2006).


While many people argue that attaching stakes to test scores is supposed to create incentives for students and teachers to work harder and for school and district administrators to do a better job of monitoring their performance, this is not necessarily the case. (Elmore, 2002). Students instead worry about whether or not they will be the one student who will let down their school if the school does not receive a passing grade. They worry about whether or not they will be successful and what the consequences will be if they are not.

Emphasis should not be focused solely on one high-stakes assessment to the point where students are restricted from being allowed to play on the playground for fear they may not get enough reading time in during the typical school day. Parents should not have to worry about whether or not their student is receiving a good education because the school made adequate yearly progress or not. Administrators should not have to be figuring out how to make sure that each ethnic group of various levels of ability are going to be more successful on the current test compared to the prior year's assessment. Too much time is wasted on preparing for the test, rather than preparing the student's for their future in the real world.


In summary, using a high-stakes assessment is a bad idea to use as a judgment tool to assess a student's true learning mastery in the classroom. Using a high-stakes assessment, such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, as a means of providing funding or lack thereof is a disservice to all schools and students. Having additional outside pressures to be successful is harmful to our educational system and should be removed all together. Kids should be allowed to be kids again and not automations of what politicians think they should be in order to show that the United States is a competitive and successful country.


Crocker, L. (2002). " Stakeholders in comprehensive validation of standards-based assessments: a commentary", Educational Measurement, 21: 1, 5-6.

Elmore, Richard (2002). "Testing Trap: The Largest and Possibly Most Destructive Federal Intrusion into America's Public Schools", Harvard Magazine, 105:1.

Lee, (2008). "Is Test-Driven External Accountability Effective? Synthesizing the Evidence From Cross-State Causal-Comparative and Correlational Studies", Review of Educational Research, 78: 3, 608-644.

Wang, Lihshing, Beckett, Gulbahar H. and Brown, Lionel (2006). "Controversies of Standardized Assessment in School Accountability Reform: A Critical Synthesis of Multidisciplinary Research Evidence", Applied Measurement in Education, 19: 4, 305-328.

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