State testing: Which expert has it right?

File photo by Cindi Christi/Bay Area News Group

Academics and other experts debate the merits, pitfalls and politics of standardized testing on a New York Times blog. Below are some excerpts; you can access the responses in full through the above link. In your opinion, who has it right? Who has it wrong?

“Tests covering what students were expected to learn (guided by an agreed-upon curriculum) serve a useful purpose — to provide evidence of student effort, of student learning, of what teachers taught, and of what teachers may have failed to teach.” — Sandra Stotsky

“Test driven, or force-fed, learning can not enrich and promote the traits necessary for life success. Indeed, it is dangerous to focus on raising test scores without reducing school drop out, crime and dependency rates, or improving the quality of the workforce and community life.” — James Comer

“The major lesson is that officials in all states — from New York to Mississippi — have succumbed to heavy political pressure to somehow show progress. They lower the proficiency bar, dumb down tests and distribute curricular guides to teachers filled with study questions that mirror state exams. … What’s key in moving forward is to depoliticize student testing and hold public officials accountable when they grossly overstate progress.” — Bruce Fuller

“Test score gains among New York City students are important because research finds that how well one performs on cognitive tests matters more to one’s life chances than ever before. Mastery of reading and math, in particular, are significant because they provide the gateway to higher learning and critical thinking. But test score results can also be easily overblown and obscure significant disadvantages still faced by children in New York City’s high poverty schools.” — Richard D. Kahlenberg

“Reliable and valid standardized tests can be one way to measure what some students have learned. Although they may be indicators of future academic success, they don’t “prepare” students for future success.” — Veda Jairrels

“Opponents of testing try to have it both ways. When test scores are low they argue for a holistic view of student achievement that focuses on non-test indicators of performance rather than teaching to the test. When results are high, as in the recent rise in New York City scores, they counter that the scores are suspect because teachers are just teaching to the test. If a state test is well conceived, both these arguments fail to hold water.” — Lance T. Izumi

“Not only are many immigrant children tested before their academic language skills have adequately developed, but all too often their day-to-day educational experiences are shaped by instruction that teaches to the test, which is far from an adequate measure of what it takes to succeed in the complex and challenging economies and societies of the 21st century.” — Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and Carola Suárez-Orozco

“In high-stakes testing jurisdictions, anxious teachers, in order to avoid earning bad grades themselves, “teach to the test,” as the saying goes. In doing so, fortunately, some teachers adopt classroom techniques that produce real increases in student proficiency, particularly among the lowest-performing students.” — Marcus Winters

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.