Educators Criticize National Tests

As educators, parents, and civil rights advocates, we strongly support improving assessment as part of school reform.

However, we believe that most current efforts to establish a national test to measure progress toward the nation’s educational goals, such as the proposal from Educate America, will hurt, not help, school quality.

We therefore urge the Bush Administration and the Congress to support education reform by not implementing a national exam at this time. Rather, they should support efforts to introduce new assessments as part of implementing school reform and genuine accountability.

Successful educational reform must include restructuring curriculum, instruction, school governance, and assessment. This includes developing the ability of our nation’s 2-1/2 million teachers to teach – and assess – in new ways. Teachers, administrators, other school personnel, parents, students, community members, and government must all be involved in an open and democratic process of defining our nation’s educational goals so that we can agree, for example, on what it means for all students to be competent in different areas. On that basis, we can then determine how to make the changes required to reach the goals, including a decision on how best to assess progress toward the goals. Most current proposals for a national test, however, seek to test before necessary decisions about the goals of school reform have been made. This likely will lead to imposition of a national curriculum without public discussion that will block our nation’s progress toward a high-quality education for all.

Most current proposals call for creation of a low-cost test that will be administered to all students in the near future. Such proposals suffer from several fatal flaws. First, they assume that measurement by itself will produce positive change. Recent history shows this is not true: During the 1980s, U.S. school children became the most over-tested students in the world—but the desired improvements did not occur. Our schools now give more than 200 million standardized exams each year and the typical student must take several dozen before graduating. Adding more testing is clearly not the way to improve education any more than taking the temperature of a patient more often will reduce his or her fever.

Second, because of cost and time factors, such a test inevitably will be mostly multiple-choice. Because teachers will be pressured to teach to the test, schooling will be reduced even more to test-coaching that will not include learning to think and create and use knowledge in real-world settings. Implementation of such exams therefore will mislead the public about the nature of the problem and the requirements of real change, block positive school reform (including the use of new methods of assessment), hinder students’ ability to develop the kinds of intellectual competencies they need to develop, and ultimately undermine public education.

Instead of implementing a national exam at this time, we urge Congress and the Administration to take the following steps to improve education and assessment:

  • Assist states and districts, acting in consortia, to develop and implement performance-based methods of assessment.
  • Assist state and district teacher education and staff development programs.
  • Assist the subject area groups, such as those in math, English, social studies and science, to develop and disseminate model curricula, standards and assessments.
  • Ensure that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) remains a national monitoring system and focuses on developing high-quality, performance-based assessments; not consider expansion of state comparisons under NAEP until adequate research and discussion on the effects has been completed; and continue the prohibition on comparisons below the state level unless and until NAEP exams are revised to meet the criteria of being performance-based, based on national standards reached by public consensus, and able to be used without undermining NAEP’s role of a national indicator that uses matrix sampling.

Only after these educational reform processes have been implemented and evaluated should the Congress and the Administration consider whether it is desirable or feasible to link the newly developed local and state performance-based assessments to each other and to national standards or curricular frameworks.

We are not arguing against accountability or for slowing down school reform. To the contrary, we are saying that we need school reform, not more testing. We need genuine accountability, not test scores from multiple-choice or short-answer exams.

Our nation must not be misled into thinking more testing will solve our educational problems. Instead, we must construct plans for reform that include assessments which can be used to help student learning, guide educational improvement, provide information for accountability, and assist the goal of equity, but not block progress or harm students. Our nation will be far better served to take the time to do the job well, than to act hastily and poorly with destructive results.

List of Signers:

Advocates for Children of New York, Inc.; American Association of School Administrators; ASPIRA Association; Atlantic Center for Research  in Education, North Carolina; Leonard Beckum, Duke University*; California Tomorrow; Center for Women Policy Studies; Central Park East Secondary School, New York; Sandra Cox, Testing Committee Chair, Association of Black Psychologists*; Harold Dent, Psychological & Human Resources Consultants, Inc.*; Designs for Change, Chicago, Illinois; Education Law Center, New Jersey; Dr. Pamela George, North Carolina Central University*; Leslie Hart, Brain-Compatible Education Information*; Asa Hilliard III, Georgia State University; Institute for Learning and Teaching, Minnesota; Intercultural Development Research Association, Texas; Kentucky Youth Advocates, Inc.; Massachusetts Advocacy Center; META Inc. ; Susan Metz, Human Resources Academy, New York*; Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Mississippi Human Services Agenda; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; National Association for the Education of Young Children; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest); National Education Association; National PTA; Fred Newmann, University of Wisconsin*; Organization of Chinese American Women; Panasonic Foundation; Vito Perrone, Harvard Graduate School of Education*; Representative C.J. Prentiss, Ohio State Legislature*; Project on Equal Education Rights, New York; Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund; Rethinking Schools; William Robinson, District of Columbia School of Law*; William Schipper, National Association of State Directors of Special Education*; Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Southern Regional Council, Inc.; Chuck Stone, University of Delaware*; Representative Vernon Sykes, Ohio State Legislature*; Whole Language Umbrella

*Organizations listed for identification purposes only