Researchers Call for Test Moratorium

K-12 Testing

High-stakes testing does not produce meaningful learning gains even in the core tested subjects of reading and math, according to a new study from the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.


“A rapidly growing body of research evidence on the harmful effects of high-stakes testing, along with no reliable evidence of improved performance by students on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests of achievement, suggests that we need a moratorium in public education on the use of high-stakes testing,” said Sharon L. Nichols, the lead author.


Harmful effects include narrowed curricula, increased student retention and dropouts, with a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority students. Gains on college admissions tests in states with graduation exams also have been weaker than in other states (see story, p. 4). These findings reinforce results from a series of other studies (see Examiner, Summer 2005, Spring-Summer 2004, Winter 2003).


High-Stakes Testing and Student Achievement: Problems for the No Child Left Behind Act, by Nichols, Gene Glass and David Berliner, analyzes results from the 25 states that have participated in state-level NAEP since its first or second administration. To understand the meaning of “high stakes” in different states and analyze their effects, the authors considered not only specific state policies on using test results for graduation and promotion but how the resulting pressures were felt by teachers, students and parents.


The report has four findings:

• The higher the percentage of minority students in a state, the greater the pressure exerted by accountability systems, meaning that America’s minority students are at greater risk of harm from high-stakes testing. This finding complements FairTest’s 1997 report, Testing Our Children.
• Higher pressure from testing is linked to increased retention and dropouts. The greater the testing pressure, the less likely that 8th and 10th graders will get to 12th grade.
• For White, African-American and Hispanic students, increased testing pressure did not result in improved NAEP state level reading scores in 4th and 8th grade.
• It is unlikely that there is a link between testing pressure and NAEP score gains in 4th and 8th grade mathematics. More likely, indirect factors such as teaching to the test, drill, and exclusion of low-scoring and disabled students influence these results.
• The study is available online at