The Case Against High Stakes Testing
The materials selected for this page make the case against relying on test scores to make critical educational decisions about students or schools - or what is called high stakes testing. Common examples include retaining a child in grade or withholding a students high-school diploma solely on the basis their score on a test, or relying on test scores to determine whether a teacher or school should be sanctioned or rewarded.
A large body of evidence exists against using standardized tests for such decisions. New evidence is being collected as states and district increasingly use tests for such purposes. This page presents the arguments and evidence to help you build a case against high-stakes testing in your own community.
Be sure to check out:
- FairTest's October 2014 Report: The Testing Resistance and Reform Movement: A FairTest Report
- New FairTest report - September 2014 - Testing Reform Victories - The First Wave
- FairTest, 12 other organizations, and prominent individuals have drafted the following a national Resolution on High-Stakes Testing. We call organizations and individuals to endorse it.
- FairTest's Lisa Guisbond testified on graduation exams before the Rhode Island legislature. To read her testimony, which has many useful citations, see here.
- New FairTest Fact Sheet "Racial Justice and Standardized Educational Testing" in PDF
- Monty Neill's article, "A Child Is Not a Test Score:
Assessment as a Civil Rights Issue," from the Fall 2009 issue of Root and
Branch, is avaiable here.
- Organizations and experts who oppose high-stakes testing
- FairTest Examiner, which has articles in every issue documenting the harm caused by high-stakes testing and the efforts to halt such testing.
- Testing Hurts Teaching and Learning, Examiner fall 2003
- "Many Children Left Behind," book on NCLB, reviewed in Summer 2004 Examiner.
- Links to other helpful resources for books, articles and other organizations
- The Case for Authentic Assessment explaining how other assessments and accountability systems can report on school progress and student achievement without resulting in the negatives outcomes found under high-stakes testing
FairTest Fact Sheets on:
- Limits of Standardized Tests for Assisting and Diagnosing Student Learning
- The Dangerous Consequences of High-Stakes Standardized Testing
- Norm-Referenced Achievement Tests
- Criterion- and Standards- Referenced Tests
- Multiple Choice Tests
- What's Wrong with Standardized Tests?
- The Testing Explosion
Additional resources created by FairTest, ARN and others
- Momentum Grows Against Zero Tolerance Discipline and High-Stakes Testing
- FairTest and five other groups wrote this position paper on NCLB/ESEA
and the school-to-prison pipeline, which looks at testing, "zero
tolerance" and other problems, and makes recommendations.
- “Test, Punish, and Push Out: How Zero Tolerance and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School to Prison Pipeline,” an Advancement Project report.
- Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation.
- High-Stakes Testing Flunks , op-ed by Monty Neill for USA Today, September 7, 1999.
- Parents Guide to Testing, Chicago Illinois, In English and En Espanol- Parents United for Responsible Education, Chicago, Illinois
- North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation website contains information by and about this "diverse network of progressive educators dedicated to advocacy for useful, fair, and democratic ways to document and assess children's learning."
- Standards and Assessments Q & A Advocates for Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
- Parents Say No to Proficiency Test Parents against Ohio Proficiency Tests,
- The Truth About The SOLs, Parents United Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs
- Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education's alternative plan for authentic assessment and accountability.
- Flyer by the Coalition for Fair and Authentic Assessment: What You Need to Know About California's High Stakes Tests
- Performance assessment schools meet high standards without high-stakes regents tests. That's the truth. So what are the myths? From 28 schools across New York state.
- Link to Children's Defense Fund fact sheet on high school graduation tests (in pdf). http://www.childrensdefense.org/site/DocServer/exitexams.pdf?docID=457
- This (PDF) article finds in New Jersey tests at grades 3 and 4 lack adequate reliability and validity; districts should be cautious in their use.
- Piece by Angela Engel titled: Exposing the Myth of High Stakes Testing.
- "Our Impoverished View of Educational Reform" by David C. Berliner - Teachers College Record, August 02, 2005
- The Center on Education Policy has published an article (PDF) on the effects of Exit Exams on schools and graduation.
- Multiple Measures for Graduation
- The Inevitable Corruption of Indicators and Educators Through High-Stakes Testing by Sharon L. Nicols and David C. Berliner, available from Arizona State University.
- "Adios, Escuela," on Boston's dismal Hispanic graduation rate and the failure of authorities to do anything about it, by David S. Bernstein in the Boston Phoenix.
- "Black and Failing," a fine article on the black-white "achievement gap" by David Bernstein in the Boston
- Opening Exercises -- Or Never-Never Land, by Wendy Darling.
- Standardized Testing in Schools by Peggy Patten Parent News for January-February 2000 Feature
- All Children Need More Than Test Taking Skills. Pet Burials, For Instance. The Details of Life, by Jonathan Kozol, The Nation, May 2000 (search the Nation's web)
- Standardized Tests Flunk Common Sense 101, by Caroline Grannan for the San Francisco Examiner, August 23, 1999]
- Why Bad Reforms Won't Give Us Good Schools, By Larry Cuban, American Prospect, January 12, 2001,
- Why So Many Exams? A Marxist Reponse, by Bertell Ollman
- Test Case: Hard Lessons from the TAAS by Jake Bernstein, The Texas Observer
- Report on Results of Texas Accountability, Center for Education, Rice University, Shows graduation rates down and dropout rates rising at end of five year, high-stakes TAAS testing.
- An Analysis of Some Unintended and Negative Consequences of High-Stakes Testing
by Audrey L. Amrein and David C. Berliner. This study examined the unintended consequences of high-stakes tests in 16 states that have implemented high-stakes graduation exams. In those states the authors found increased dropout rates, decreased graduation rates, and higher rates of younger people taking the GED equivalency exams. Report and appendix total 138 pages in two sections. Scroll Down the page at the link to find it.
- Taught to Remove All Thought denounces the effects of testing on writing http://www.lessonplans.com/commentary.htm and letters on this column are at http://www.sptimes.com/2002/07/14/news_pf/Perspective/Formula_writing_teach.shtml
The harmful impact on curriculum and instruction
- Will More Testing Improve Schools? FairTest
- How Standardized Testing Damages Education, FairTest
- The Children's Defense Fund fact sheet on high school graduation tests (in pdf). http://www.childrensdefense.org/site/DocServer/exitexams.pdf?docID=457
- "Meeting the Standards Will Not Guarantee Success" Arnold Packer, SCANS 2000 Center, The Johns Hopkins University, The High School Assessments Forum, Tuesday, October 21, 2003
- The Human Face of the High-Stakes Testing Story, by Linda Nathan, Phi Delta Kappan, April 2002
- Emphasis on Testing Leads to Sacrifices in Other Areas, by Alfie Kohn, USA Today, August 23
- Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools by Alfie Kohn
- Standards and Multiculturalism, Rethinking Schools article, Spring 2002
- Standards Yes, Standardization No by Deborah Meier
- "How to Improve High-Stakes Test Scores Without Really Improving" by Richard L. Allington, fact sheet
- Never Mind the Inventive Curriculum. One Test Fits All. By Michael Winerip, New York Times, Nov. 8, 2001
- Bamboozled By The Texas Miracle By Teddi Beam-Conroy (In Rethinking Schools Archives, Volume 16, No. 1 - Fall 2001)
Widening the gap: How high-stakes testing exacerbates inequities between wealthy and poor communities; white and students of color
- Classroom Caste System, an op-ed from the April 9, 2007 Washington Post.
- National Latino Education Research Agenda Project (NLERAP), comprised of many prominent Latino educators, has produced an Agenda for educational improvement that includes strong language on standardized testing. http://nlerap.hunter.cuny.edu/draft-agenda.html
- How the Stanford 9 Institutionalizes Unequal Education, by Alex Caputo-Perl for the Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1999
- The Human Cost of Over-reliance on Tests by Adria Steinberg, Harvard Education Letter, March/April 1999
- Racial Bias Built into Tests -FairTest Examiner article
- Poverty has a Powerful Impact on Educational Attainment, or, Don't Trust Ed Trust
Stephen Krashen, Substance (in press) Critique of recent Ed Trust Report
- Standards, Testing, and Race (In the Rethinking Schools book "Failing Our Kids: Why the Testing Craze Won't Fix Our Schools")
- The Relative Equitability of High-Stakes Testing versus Teacher-Assigned Grades: An Analysis of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), Graduate school researchers Robert T. Brennan, James S. Kim, Melodi Wenz Gross and Gary N. Siperstein; Harvard Educational Review
- High Stakes Tests May Worsen Educational Outcomes for Minorities and Girls" The Relative Equitability of High-Stakes Testing versus Teacher-Assigned Grades: Robert T. Brennan, James S. Kim, Medlodie Wez-Gross and Gary N. Siperstien Harvard Educational Review
Dropouts, grade retention and high-stakes testing - what you should know
- Low Test Scores + High Retention Rates = More Dropouts by C. Thomas Holmes - excellent review of testing, retention and dropouts; reports most developed nations don't retain students.
- Retention in kindergarten hurts kids according to research summarized in this news release from American Educational Research Assn.
- One-Third of a Nation: Rising Dropout Rates and Declining Opportunities, by Paul Barton (PDF)
- The National Association of School Psychologists has an excellent position paper on grade retention. http://www.nasponline.org/information/pospaper_graderetent.html
- First, Do No Harm: A Response to the Proposed New York City Third Grade Retention Policy
- The Children's Defense Fund fact sheet on high school graduation tests (in pdf).
- Fact sheet on testing and grade Retention
- Dropouts And Testing in MA - FairTest Press Release
- National Study on Minority Dropouts http://www.ResultsForAmerica.org.
- MCAS: Making the Massachusetts Dropout Crisis Worse. FairTest/Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education, Sept. 2000
- Droppout numbers for Boston 1996 - 2000
- Chicago Retention Policy Still a Failure. The Chicago Consortium and School "Update: Ending Social Promotion is available at www.consortium-Chicago.org Comments on the CCSR report by DFC and Professor Robert Hauser of University of Wisconsin are available at www.dfc1.org
- The Myth of the Texas Miracle by Boston College Professor Walt Haney
- The Case Against TAAS - FairTest Examiner article outlining case including data about dropouts/retention in Texas due to TAAS testing
- Exit exams can catch kids in dropout crunch By Donna Harrington-Lueker 11/30/01 USA Today
The harmful impact on bilingual education students and English language learners
- FairTest bibliography on bilingual ed and testing
- Assessment of ELL Students under NCLB: Problems and Solutions.
- The Harmful Impact of the TAAS System of Testing in Texas: Beneath the Accountability Rhetoric," Linda McNeil and Angela Valenzuela, Raising Standards or Raising Barriers? Inequality and High Stakes Testing in Public Education, edited by Gary Orfield and Mindy Kornhaber (Harvard Civil Rights Project, 2001).
- Second-Language Literacy Instruction - A Position Statement of the International Reading Association FairTest bibliography on bilingual ed and testing?
- High Stakes Testing and English Language Learners Denise McKeon NEA Teaching and Learning November 2000
- API Test Is an Injustice To Students With Limited English Eugene E. Garcia, San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, January 31, 2000
- Proposition 227 and Skyrocketing Test Scores: An Urban Legend from California; by Stephen Krashen
Testing Special Needs Students: Inclusion into flawed assessment policies and exams does more harm than good
- Study shows harmful consequences to students with disabilities from high-stakes testing
Testing the Disabled, FairTest Examiner, 1998
- Web site of state-by-state department rules on testing of special needs students: http://www.reedmartin.com/stateaccommodationspolicies.htm
- FairTest Examiner article about oregon lawsuit filed against state on behalf of students
Pitfalls of relying on tests to measure and reward teachers and schools
- MCAS Alert, June 2002. FairTest research report on the problems with using MCAS tests to judge school quality.
- Lake Woebeguaranteed: Misuse of Test Scores in Massachusetts, Part I by Walt Haney, Boston College, EPAA,Volume 10 Number 24.
- High-Stakes Test-Based Accountability Policies: Problems and Pitfalls by Anne Wheelock
- Test Scores Unreliable Means of Assessing School Quality A FairTest report analyzing the test score patterns of a handful of Massachusetts schools illustrates that test scores are not a unreliable indicator of school quality.
- School Rankings Resemble Lottery FairTest Examiner, Summer 2001
- California Teachers Reject Testing 'Bribes' Rethinking Schools, Volume 16, No. 3 - Spring 2002
- Performance Pay for Teachers: The Standards Movement's Last Stand? Of all the consequences of the standards movement, pay-by-performance will be the most destructive. by Maurice Holt, Phi Delta Kappan, December 2001. (Search www.pdkintl.org to get a copy)
- "How to Improve High-Stakes Test Scores Without Really Improving" by Richard L. Allington, fact sheet
Why so called "value-added" testing schemes don't add value
- Value Added, Value Lost? FairTest Examiner article by Gerald Bracey
Also see these two Rethinking Schools articles: http://www.rethinkingschools.org/val144.htm
Why Federally Mandated Testing won't work to improve education in the nation
- FairTest page on NCLB
- Leaving Children Behind - How "Texas-style" Accountability Fails Latino Youth, edited by Angela Valenzuela is now available from SUNY PressSee an exerpt here.
- Measuring Learning Does Not Improve Learning FairTest Fact Sheet
Testing and Young Children
- Alliance for Childhood position statement on high-stakes testing.
- Achievement Tests for Young Children FairTest
- Readiness Tests FairTest
- 3 NAEYC Position Statements
Scoring, reporting and other errors made by testing companies in high-stakes testing situations
- We Hung the Most Dimmwitted Essays on the Wall A Story from Salon Magazine on the test scoring industry.
- The Examiner, There are many more stories on test company errors available by searching FairTest's Examiner.
Analysis of the content and questions of various tests:
Regents Exam Review Panel, English Language Arts, Report of Proceedings
Hosted by Rockefeller Foundation
- Some states provide sample test questions from their state education departments online. Check our state-by-state list of resources to find and view the states that provide this.
Student voices on testing
- Why the MCAS Hurts, Brookline Tab -- May 8, 2002, Guest Commentary, by Dana Monnier, Emma Stoskopf-Erlich, Riva Lencer, Irene Behrman,Adam
Stoler, Alessandro Ascherio
- What Can Student Drawings Tell Us About High-Stakes Testing in Massachusetts?
- "Student Views of TAAS" - Professors at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi publish student essays (with their permission) about their experience with high-stakes TAAS exams on the web. To read the essays go to http://comppile.tamucc.edu/TAAS/
- Standardized Minds, a poem by By Niles Xi-An Lichtenstein, student of Youth Speaks
- No is the Right Answer, by Eleanor Martin, Student, Cambridge Rindge and Latin, Cambridge, MA
- Student Coalition for an Alternative to MCAS (SCAM)
We are a growing statewide organization of students committed to: Raising awareness of the problems with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), Promoting an alternative to the MCAS and Taking action to address the negative effects of an inadequate and harmful assessment system
- Students Against Testing
Students Against Testing was created to be a strong force against the score-obsessed education machine known as standardized testing. At the same time, SAT also exists as an advocate for bringing positive, creative and real-life learning activities into the schools.
- The Organized Students of Chicago. Contact by email at OSC3000@aol.com
High-stakes and other "incentives" may not motivate, will discourage many students
- Student Self-Portraits as Test-Takers: Variations, Contextual Differences, and Assumptions about Motivationby Anne Wheelock, Damian J. Bebell, and Walt Haney
- Punished by Rewards, The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, As, Praise, and Other Bribes. By Alfie Kohn, 1999.
Test pressure results in physical and psychological harms for some children
- See Alliance for Childhood statement by leading child development specialists and educators
- See section above.
- Quote from Sacramento Bee, "Test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it." March 14, 2002
High-stakes testing impedes local decision making
- High Stakes vs. Democracy by Ken Jones, Examiner, Fall 2000
- Public School
- College Admissions
- Fact Sheets
- Act Now
- Other Resources