Return to John Dewey Project Home Page

High-Stakes Testing
  • More than 300 Minnesota high school seniors missed their graduation because of scoring errors by National Computer Systems Inc. on a high-stakes math test . Nearly 8,000 students were told they failed when they had passed.
Read more: Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 2, 2000
  • Drop out rates in Texas are thirty percent, more than double the national average of 14 percent.
                        National Center for Education Statistics
Recently, high-stakes   standardized testing as a means of reform has captured the support of many local, state, and national educational leaders including the President, members of Congress, a majority of governors, state legislatures, and boards of education. What most clearly defines these groups and individuals is their pursuit of mandated curriculum and testing regimes as a simplistic cure-all solution to the variously perceived ills threatening the fundamental effectiveness of public education. In both editorial and news stories, the media generally supports this view.
  • In Birmingham, Alabama, 522 students with low skills, 5.6% of the high school population, were “administratively withdrawn” from school right before administration of the SAT9. School scores went up, removing them from threat of state takeover. All the pushed out students are African American.
  Read More: Interversity “Roots of Resistance” conference

All children should learn the same content which is decided by an external agency appointed by government/legislature/state board of education.  We agree that all children need, basic skills, but insist that a varied curriculum contributes to a vital democracy.
Academic success depends on individualeffort; failure is the fault of the individual.Everybody can and should learn anything decided by the governing body.  We believe decisions about the contentof children’s educational programsshould be local.


                                   SOME PROGRESSIVE CONCERNS

1. Education decisions based on high-stakes tests have a disproportionate impact on poor and minority children.
  • Item:
  • On October 4, 2000, Parents for Educational Justice in Louisiana filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that the state’s high-stakes testing system is “an inexpensive attempt to punish the victims of educational  neglect and divert the public’s attention from the real steps that need to be taken to improve educational opportunity for the children of Louisiana.”
                                      Read more:
  • Item:
  •       In 2008, students will not graduate unless they have passed every part of the Washington
         Assessment of Student Learning, earning a certificate of mastery.   In Spring 2000, only
         one third of the state’s 10th graders passed the math or writing sections of  the WASL.
         Tumwater Superintendent Nick Brossoit says the stakes are too high for students who do
          not test well and for students who do not learn enough—often through no fault of their
          own or the school’s. “Public school is not like a dry cleaner, where you drop them off,
          then pick them up all starched and press,” he said.
                                          Read more: The Olympian, September 19, 2000                                     

    2. Pinning high school graduation on high stakes testing  increases drop out rates.
  • Item:
  • The human cost of the Chicago ‘miracle’: 10,000 students pushed out
                            Read more:  Substance , October 2000
  • Item:
  • In Florida, between ninth grade and graduation day, roughly half of the state’s high school
    students leave, fall behind or disappear.
                               Read more:
  • Item:
  • In Texas, adoption of the high school exit exam (TAAS) has produced a 30% increase in dropouts among Hispanic and African-American students.
                                Read more:  “The Myth of the Texas Miracle in Education,” Walt Haney,
                                Education Policy Analysis,
  • Item:
  • Although black and Latino students account for only 17 percent of all students in Grades 9—12, they represent 40 percent of high school dropouts in Massachusetts.
      Read more:
                            MCAS Alert, Nation Center for Fair and Open Testing report, Oct. 2000
  • Item:
  • Results of a comprehensive study conducted by Cornell University and University of Michigan economists “strongly suggest that state-mandated minimum course requirements cause students to drop out of high school.”
                            Read more:
  • Item:
  • “We’ll have a graduating class of 10.”
               Crissy Rodrigues, New Bedford High School (Massachusetts), Class of 2003
                            Read more: MCAS Alert, FairTest/CARE (Coalition for Authentic Reform
                                in Education), September 2000

    3. High-Stakes tests narrow the curriculum, limiting the scope of tested subjects and shortchanging or eliminating  subjects not tested. They distort the very meaning of what is important in human conduct.
  • Item:
  • In Texas, TAAS, is the curriculum.
         Read more:  Parents United to Reform TAAS Testing:
  • Item:
  • In the Cincinnati Public Schools the test is the curriculum.. . .At North Avondale school, fourth-grade students are rushed through some Montessori math lessons so they can be prepared for the test.
      Read more: Enquirer, September 3, 2000
  • Item:
  • Tests are developed by a small group of government officials with hardly any public
    involvement. As a results, parents and the public rarely know what questions are asked
    or what the “right” answers are.
                             Read more: A Closer Look: A Parent’s Guide to Standardized Testing
                               in North Carolina Schools
  •  Item:
  • Across the country students spent all year in writing practice for the formulaic demands of tests. Students write three- and five-paragraph essays but do not engage in research, personal narrative, fiction writing. They do not select own topics but respond to teacher-supplied prompts that mimic those on the tests.
  • Item:
  • “In response to pressures to raise their test scores, schools in poorer areas emphasize
    narrow test-taking drills at the expense of course content.”
      Read more: “How the Stanford 9 Test Institutionalizes Unequal Education,”
                Alex Caputo-Pearl, Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1999

    4. High-stakes test place damaging  stress on children
  • Items:
  • [Ohio] parents say their young children are stressed out, sometimes fainting or vomiting under the high-stakes pressure.
                    Read More: Enquirer, September 3, 2000
                In Fairfield schools in southwestern Ohio, test-related stress has made some
                fourth-graders wet their pants and vomit.
          Read more: Enquirer, September 2, 2000

  •  Item:
  •             A six-year-old taking the SAT9 is given less time per question than a 25-year-old college
                graduate applying to law school.
                                Read More: “Readability of SAT9”:
  •  Item:
  •             When Florida fourth graders were asked by their Sunday School teacher if they wanted to
                 pray about something that was scaring them, they joined hands and prayed to pass the
      personal communication
  •   Item:
  •   Nap, play---and take a test. Saddleback Valley will use a beginner’s version of the
                 Stanford 9 in kindergarten
       Read more: The Orange County Register, April 8, 2000
  •  Item:
  •              In 1987, the National Association for the Education of Young Children provided
                 convincing and compelling reasons for not inflicting standardized testing on young children.
                                    Read more:

    5. High stakes tests diminish and underrepresent academic achievement.
      Although Arizona students score, on average, as high as 10 percentile ranks above the national median on such tests as the Stanford 9, the AIMS test threatens to designate as many as 3 out of 4 of these students as failures.
                           Read more:
    Achievement test scores are at all time highs. The proportion of students
     scoring about 650 on the SAT mathematics is at an all-time high.
                         Read more: “Bail Me Out! Handling Difficult Data and Tough Questions
                                 About Public Schools,” Gerald Bracey (Corwin 2000
                Bracey and Education: Interview:
    Seventy percent of Virginia parents polled agree with the statement, “The SOLs are
    more politically than educationally motivated.” Sixty-five percent agreed that “Teachers
    spend too much time teaching to the test rather than teaching other important materials
    and topics.”
                         Read more: Washington Post, June 27, 2000

    For a fourth-grade student whose “true” reading score is exactly at grade level, the chances are better than even that this student will score either above the 55th percentile or below the 45th on any one test.
                                      Read more: Accuracy of Individual Scores, David Rogosa
      “How Tests Can Drop the Ball,” Richard Rothstein, New York Times, Sept. 13, 2000

    6. High Stakes tests divert attention and monies from serious problems.

      Books per student in school libraries for elementary school:
    USA: 18 to 1
    California: 12 to 1,down from 13 to 1 (last in the US)
    Los Angeles Unified: 6 to 1

    LA unified does not even provide funding for school librarians in its
    elementary schools.  (Source: Stephen Krashen, USC)

    The New York City schools budget for libraries is $4 per student. (Source: New York Post)

    7.  In fifty years, using tests to improve education hasn’t worked.
    Read more: “Assessments and Accountability,” by Robert Linn, Educational Researcher, March 2000.

    8. Even if tests worked, security is an issue.

    “Prosecutor Says Indictment of Austin Schools Will Help Deter Test Tampering”
      Read more: New York Times, April 8, 1999
    “Leap21 test booklet recovered from parent”
    Read more: The Advocate, March 23, 2000:

    The Gateway test is a day away, and Gwinnett County school district
    officials are facing a major security breach---leaked copies of the exam.
                Read more: Atlanta Constitution, April 11, 2000
    The Clayton County school board rehired a principal it fired for giving teachers vocabulary words from a national test in advance
                Read More: Atlanta Constitution, October 11, 2000

    It would be effective to have newspaper headlines from around the country, but “length” is an issue.


    a. Individual needs and interests of students and communities must drive curriculum choices.
    b. Any test can only measure a limited range of knowledge and skills.
    c. Heavy reliance on testing narrows the curriculum. High-stakes testing undermines cognitively complex curriculum, inquiry, extended research, science lab work, varieties of writing forms, oral presentations; it shortchanges the arts and other areas not tested.
    d. No high-stakes decision such as grade retention or graduation should be based on the results of a single test.
    e. Students, parents, and teachers should not be left out of high-stakes decision-making.

 (Periodic reports from Gerald Bracey) (Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, University of Minnesota. (The National Center for Fair & Accurate Testing) (Concerned Parents of Gwinnett County, Georgia)  (Ohio Proficiency Test Protesters) (New Democracy) (PEAK: Public Education for Arizona’s Kids) (NC Citizens for Democratic Schools) (Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLS) (Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform)