State Testing is a Regular Feature of the School Experience: Should it Be?

Examining a policy that doesn’t seem to be arriving at a solution

Andy Spears

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Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

In the latest edition of The Education Report, I write about standardized testing and note that Tennessee’s version has seen its share of problems.

Here’s more from that piece:

State standardized testing is supposed to help identify areas in public education that need improvement — and is often used to highlight achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status. However, a new piece in Jacobin suggests that high-stakes testing has done little to help in this regard and may, in fact, be creating more problems than it solves.

When we sort children into “proficient” and “failing” categories based on test scores, we’re not solving the opportunity gaps that show up in public education; we’re creating new ones. No one is helped, and many people are hurt, when we give students, teachers, and schools an impossible assignment and then sanction them for failing to complete it. Looking forward to the ESEA’s now overdue reauthorization, it’s high time we built accountability systems that nurture the humanity and potential of all kids — rather than placing artificial roadblocks in their way.

Tennessee’s experience with standardized testing has certainly been problematic.

It’s difficult to say this particular iteration of the state’s testing system has done anything helpful. Still, this year, the results determined whether or not third graders would be allowed to move on to fourth grade.

Previous analysis of the state’s testing system found it to be a solid way to identify the relative concentration of poverty in a school district — but otherwise, not really useful at all.

An analysis of TCAP performance over time indicates that those school systems with consistently high levels of poverty tend to have consistently low scores on TCAP. Likewise, those systems with the least amount of poverty tend to have consistently higher scores on TCAP.

Nevertheless, Tennessee’s testing vendor, Pearson, recently received a $40 million increase in its contract.

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Andy Spears

Writer and policy advocate living in Nashville, TN —Public Policy Ph.D. — writes on education policy, consumer affairs, and more . . .