High-Stakes Testing Flunks - USA Today op-ed September 7, 1999.

By Monty Neill

The latest "school reform" scheme backed by politicians and business leaders who have never spent a day in a classroom teaching children is high-stakes testing -- requiring students to pass a standardized exam before they can be promoted or graduate.

Unlike other educational fads, this one isn't just unproven; it has been tested and found to fail. High-stakes exams have long been standard practice throughout the southern United States, yet these states have the worst-performing school systems in the nation, according to independent measures.
Do we really want to copy policies that have failed in such states as Mississippi and Alabama? Why should we subject even more children to a scheme that has been proved to undermine both educational quality and equity?

Test-driven education flunks on many grounds. One-size-fits-all standardized exams assume that every child learns in the same way at the same time. Fortunately for society, young people have all kinds of minds. Some excel at academic work. Others have vocational or artistic talents that the tests do not measure.

Many simply do not perform well on high-pressure exams that focus on memorization. Minorities whose parents do not speak standard English and students with disabilities are at particular risk, because the fast-paced exams fail to assess their learning accurately.

Nonetheless, proponents claim that high-stakes exams make students learn more. In reality, teachers often just drill them on how to beat a particular test. For example, in Texas, the high-stakes testers' "poster boy," scores have risen on the state's exam but failed to budge on the independent National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test.

Observers report that some students cannot answer questions that don't exactly fit the format of Texas' test. When education is reduced to test coaching, most real learning is eliminated.

Fortunately, there are better ways to improve school quality and monitor student progress. By having skilled teachers assess student academic performance over time through portfolios, projects and exhibitions, not one-shot tests, we can achieve genuine accountability and improve student learning. That is the sort of reform all of our children deserve.

Monty Neill, Ed.D., is executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. This op-ed apperaed in USA Today September 7, 1999.Read what the Internation Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English has to say about High-Stakes Testing.