President Warned of Testing Dangers

K-12 Testing

At this spring's Education Summit II of governors and business leaders, President Clinton called for all states to implement some form of testing to determine promotion from elementary and middle school as well as high school graduation. Though it may score some political points in an election year, this approach could undermine the nation s goal of helping all students reach high standards, according to a FairTest statement to Summit participants.

FairTest noted that relying on one-time exams, no matter how good their quality, to make high-stakes decisions, such as promotion or graduation, is neither fair nor educationally useful. At a minimum, this approach encourages teaching to the test and narrows curriculum. It can also conflict with equity goals by punishing students who have not been given the opportunities or resources needed to master the content of the exams.

These problems would be further compounded if states choose to use off-the-shelf, norm-referenced, multiple-choice tests for reasons of convenience or economy. Research on states and districts that already rely on such exams for promotional gates indicates that they often increase the dropout/forceout rate, without improving either achievement or accountability.

Though President Clinton did not endorse any particular form of assessment and specifically criticized heavy reliance on multiple-choice items, many governors, political conservatives and the religious right have been pushing for a return to just this form of testing (see Examiner, Summer 1994). Most of the national subject area groups which proposed curriculum standards, however, have recognized that reliance on multiple-choice exams encourages the dullest kinds of instruction and turns students off from learning.

Instead of looking for quick-fix solutions to complex issues, FairTest encouraged the President, the nation s governors, and corporate leaders to rely on the Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems of the National Forum on Assessment (see Examiner, Fall-Winter 1995-96) to create student evaluation processes that actually enhance learning. Rich, varied performance assessments, based on work done over time, are far more likely to support high quality classroom experiences. That is the best form of accountability Americans can ask for from their schools.