Musick Calls for Test Openness

K-12 Testing

One key element of a reasonable assessment program is openness – the ability of students and parents to see not only test results but the tests themselves. Yet most tests remain secret.


After extensive organizing in the 1970s, both New York and California passed “truth in testing” legislation. These laws required admissions test sponsors to make available the test, the wanted answer and the test-taker’s own responses after the administration of major exams. Though applied nationally to university admissions tests, the laws do not cover testing in the public schools or employment testing.


In the past decade, a few states have begun to make their K-12 tests public. As a result of successful litigation in Ohio and Texas, both states now release their tests. Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts voluntarily release most of each test. But the makers of commercial exams and most states continue to prohibit access to the instruments that are increasingly used to make major decisions about students and schools. Angered by what they perceived as a very low- quality test, Substance printed large portions of Chicago’s CASE exams, at the price of editor George Schmidt’s job as a Chicago teacher.


Now Mark Musick, long-time president of the Southern Regional Education Board and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, has issued a call “to show the tests to the public and the parents... and how well students did with the various test questions.” Musick argues that this is one means by which the public can decide whether the tests are reasonable or not.


Some assessment reform advocates fear that a focus on test openness could become a diversion in the fight against high-stakes tests. They argue that regardless of test quality, one test should not be used to make important decisions or control education. Others maintain that being able to discuss the actual tests helps make the case against them. In Massachusetts, for example, reviewing tests in community forums has helped expand the opposition. Thus, making the tests open can contribute to battling against high-stakes testing – one of the outcomes Musick predicts could happen, though not the one he probably hopes for.


- Musick’s article is in Education Week, Sept. 5, 2000;