Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, we've seen a growing fixation on high-stakes testing as a central piece of the effort to improve schools. Unfortunately, the result has been exactly the opposite. The low-level, high-stakes tests that now hang over our teachers and students—and their extreme misuse as a result of ideologically and politically driven education policy—have seriously damaged our public education system.
Appropriate assessments are an integral part of a high-quality education system. But an accountability system obsessed with measuring, which punishes teachers and schools, comes at a huge cost. Vital parts of the curriculum—arts, music and physical education, to name a few—are being shortchanged or abandoned because they are not subject to testing. Teachers have been forced to spend too much time on test preparation and data collection, at the expense of more engaging instruction. As a result, our students aren't getting the opportunities they need to learn how to think critically and creatively, which is essential to a 21st-century education.
It's no coincidence that efforts around the country calling for an end to the excessive use of high-stakes testing, and a return to a thoughtful focus on teaching and learning, have gathered widespread support from educators, parents, students and concerned citizens. Saranac, N.Y., teacher Don Carlisto is one such educator. "Promoting a lifelong love of reading is one of the most important things I do as an English language arts teacher," he says. "But we are sacrificing time that could be spent on learning and promoting reading in order to focus on tests that too often are unreliable indicators of student performance, poor quality and full of errors."
"Learning Is More Than a Test Score" is our effort to restore a proper balance to public education. We believe in assessments that support teaching and learning, and align with curriculum rather than narrow it; that are developed through collaborative efforts, not picked off a shelf; that are focused on measuring growth and continuous development instead of arbitrary targets unconnected to how students learn; that rely on diverse, authentic and multiple indicators of student performance rather than filling in bubbles; and that provide information leading to appropriate interventions that help students, teachers and schools improve, not sanctions that undermine them.
It's time to admit that the testing fixation rooted in No Child Left Behind has failed our students. We can repair the system by working together to return our focus to high-quality instruction, along with appropriate and useful assessments. Anything less would be unworthy of our children and of the world-class public schools they deserve.
Five Things Everyone Should Know about the Testing Fixation in US Schools
1: The world's top-performing school systems approach learning and testing completely differently than we do.
The countries whose school systems outperform the United States don't teach to the test, and they wouldn't dream of using test scores to punish teachers. In places like China and Singapore, they are actively moving away from test-driven schooling practices toward ones that encourage creativity and flexibility, because they want their children to thrive in the 21st century's innovation-driven global society. And in top-ranked Finland, students don't take any external exams until the very end of their schooling career. In fact, the Finnish government actually spends 30 times more on professional development for teachers and school administrators than they spend on testing student performance!
2: American students are taking more tests and learning fewer subjects in school.
Public school educators, parents and students report that as low-quality standardized tests have taken on more importance, the amount of testing in school has increased while nontested subjects like social studies, art, music and hands-on science instruction have been reduced or squeezed out of the curriculum entirely. Because many of these subjects help students develop critical thinking, creativity and other vital 21st-century skills, forcing some students to forgo these experiences in exchange for testing and test preparation puts them at an unfair disadvantage.
3: Recess and physical education are being cut to make time for test-focused academics—even though many experts agree these are essential for kids' health and learning.
Worldwide, studies have shown that kids who are more physically active aren't just healthier—they do better in school, too. But many schools are reducing the amount of time students have for recess and PE, often to make more time for the kinds of academic topics that show up on high-stakes tests. (This trend is especially pronounced in low-income schools. )
4: When they feel they have a choice, many families opt for learning-focused instead of test-obsessed schooling.
Most private schools do not administer the low-quality standardized tests public schools are required to give. Many families choose private schools because of the small class sizes and full, engaging curriculum they offer instead. Similarly, growing numbers of concerned public school families are demanding this same kind of education for all children. Some are even choosing to opt their children out of high-stakes tests, asking for more enriching school activities.
5: Growing numbers of Americans agree that too much testing is hurting public education.
If you agree that learning is more than a test score, click here to sign the petition.