Problems: High-Stakes Standardized Tests

Our friend, Marion Brady, put together a comprehensive list of what is wrong with high-stakes standardized tests. Feel free to copy and pass around to parents, teachers, and othe r concerned citizens.

A partial list of problems with standardized, machine-scored tests, problems which should
be addressed before such tests are used to determine student life chances, establish teacher
pay and reputation, trigger school closings, affect real estate values, and undermine
confidence in public schooling to pave the way to privatization.
Commercially produced, standardized, machine-scored tests:
1. Can measure only “lower level” thought processes, trivializing learning
2. Provide minimal to no useful feedback to classroom teachers
3. Are keyed to a deeply flawed curriculum adopted in 1893
4. Lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning
5. Unfairly advantage those who can afford test prep
6. Hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring
7. Penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways (which the young frequently do)
8. Radically limit teacher ability to adapt to learner differences
9. Give control of the curriculum to test manufacturers
10. Encourage use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators
11. Use arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores
12. Produce scores which can be (and sometimes are) manipulated for political purposes
13. Assume that what the young will need to know in the future is already known
14. Emphasize minimum achievement to the neglect of maximum performance
15. Create unreasonable pressures to cheat
16. Reduce teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession
17. Are unavoidably biased by social-class, ethnic, regional, and other cultural differences
18. Lessen concern for and use of continuous evaluation
19. Have no “success in life” predictive power
20. Unfairly channel instructional resources to learners at or near the pass-fail “cut score”
21. Are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences
22. Are at odds with deep-seated American values about individuality and worth
23. Create unnecessary stress and negative attitudes toward learning
24. Perpetuate the artificial compartmentalization of knowledge by field
25. Channel increasing amounts of tax money into corporate coffers instead of classrooms
26. Waste the vast, creative potential of human variability
27. Block instructional innovations that cannot be evaluated by machine
28. Unduly reward mere ability to retrieve secondhand information from memory
29. Subtract from available instructional time
30. Lend themselves to “gaming”—use of strategies to improve the success-rate of guessing
31. Make time—a parameter largely unrelated to ability—a factor in scoring
32. Create test fatigue, aversion, and an eventual refusal to take tests seriously
33. Undermine a fundamental democratic principle that those closest to the work are best-
positioned to evaluate its quality
34. Simply don’t work. The National Academy of Sciences, 2011 report to Congress says that
the use of standardized tests “has not increased student achievement.”

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