Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Many Tests Do Schools Really Need?

As the pushback against standardized testing – and the perceived over-usage of it – builds nationally, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Andy Smarick offers a lucid distillation of the debate.

The growing public discomfort with standardized tests is arguably a natural outgrowth of the No Child Left Behind era: It’s been more than a decade that the reputations of educators, schools, and states have largely hinged on annual  assessments. But as Smarick points out, that was itself a response to the prior approach to the business of schooling, which wasn’t particularly successful. (For an argument that American education is actually better than it’s ever been, take a look at this piece from Vox.)

Smarick’s point of view is particularly relevant given his experience in the federal policy arena. In addition to being a senior policy fellow at Fordham – a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. —  and a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, Smarick worked at the White House and the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, who spearheaded NCLB.

Smarick’s analysis comes as some lawmakers are looking to scale back federal testing requirements under NCLB, which mandates assessments every year in grades three to eight, and once in high school. Such efforts appear to be gaining steam in Congress, with multiple bills submitted for consideration, Education Week’s Alyson Klein reports. The prize for best acronym probably should go to Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) for the Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing (TEST) Act.  Israel’s bill calls for a limited number of tests in the elementary grades, and then staggered testing dates through high school.

However, Smarick outlines some clear benefits to testing students every year, in every grade. Among them: Schools can’t “hide” ineffective teachers in grades that aren’t tested, it provides a wealth of longitudinal data essential to tracking progress, and most importantly, “it makes it clear that every student matters.”

But the frustration among teachers, students, and parents is understandable. And the tension isn’t likely to ratchet down in the coming year, given the rollout of the new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. As often happens with new assessments, large percentages of students are likely to fail to demonstrate proficiency on the first round of Common Core testing, which will take place in the spring in many states.

For more on this issue, take a look at EWA’s Topics page on Standards & Testing. We’re also accepting applications for our upcoming reporters-only seminar on assessments in November at Stanford University.


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