Testing Backlash Gets Scholarly Support

Riding on the growing parental backlash over what's perceived as "over testing" in schools, educational researchers are pushing the White House and Congress to move away from "test-based policies" as they revise and renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA funds public schooling in America.

In a 13-page memo the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) makes a case that standardized testing is ineffective for achieving educational reform. The NEPC produces and disseminates peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions.

The current debates going on over the reauthorization of ESEA, according to the memo's authors, are focusing on "how many tests should be given and which grades should be tested." This is just a form of "tinkering in the margins," they stated. Lost in these discussions "is whether test-based accountability policies will produce equitable educational opportunities through substantially improved schooling."

A better route to improving "student opportunities and school outcomes," they wrote, would be to "engage in a serious, responsible conversation about evidence-based approaches."

No Child Left Behind, put in place in 2002 by President Bush and continued by President Obama, was "an ineffective solution to some very real problems," the memo said. "The broad consensus among researchers is that this system is at best ineffective and at worst counter-productive."

The document was put together by Professor Kevin Welner from the University of Colorado Boulder, and William Mathis, a member of Vermont's Board of Education. Welner is the director and Mathis the managing director for NEPC.

The problem isn't necessarily how to do testing correctly. "In fact, today's standardized assessments are probably the best they've ever been," the authors said. "The problem is a system that favors a largely automated accounting of a narrow slice of students' capacity and then attaches huge consequences to that limited information."

The "unintended consequences," the memo noted, include "less engaging and creative" schooling; the "deprofessionalizing of teachers and teaching"; the abandonment of learning "that fully encompasses arts, music, social studies and science"; and a marginalizing of the "values and skills that help students develop the ability to cooperate, solve problems, reason, make sound judgments and function effectively as democratic citizens."

In order to close the "opportunity gaps" that exist in communities of poverty, the original goal of No Child Left Behind, the memo said, "we will need to provide children in resource-starved communities with extraordinarily enriching opportunities within those schools." Currently, the authors pointed out, "each economically deprived child" receives about 19 percent greater funding than the "average student"; but they "should receive" between 40 and 100 percent more.

The NEPC is promoting an online petition set up by Kevin Kumashiro, dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, asking for other scholars to put their influence behind a "research-based call for ESEA to move testing from the center of policymaking."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.