Student Testing Flaws

By Richard Rothstein

Accountability based exclusively on test score gains has corrupted American education. To spend more time raising reading and math scores, schools pay less attention to nontested academic subjects, as well as to the arts and the development of citizenship and character.

Reading and math curricula have been narrowed to the most easily tested basic skills. Meanwhile, teachers have generated inflated test scores and a false sense of progress by substituting drill, test preparation, and test-taking tricks for good instruction.

To meet accountability targets, schools focus on children just below pre-determined passing points, overlooking those already above those points and too far below to pass. And test-based accountability has thrown schools into needless turmoil by falsely identifying high-quality schools as needing improvement (and falsely identifying inadequate schools as satisfactory).

These perverse consequences of accountability are particularly disturbing because similar corruption in other fields has been thoroughly documented by journalists and social scientists. Designers of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and similar narrow, test-based state accountability plans simply ignored well-established research that demonstrates the ineffectiveness of using quantitative measures alone.

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