Time to Rethink High-Stakes Testing

By Renee Lord, President, Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education

Standardized, high-stakes testing has quickly become a lighting rod issue for parents, teachers, administrators, and lawmakers. Even the media have agreed that schools are spending too much time teaching “to the test.” No matter your ideology, it seems nearly everyone agrees we need to pause testing, take a step back and reevaluate what these tests are accomplishing and what the results are being used for.

Yet, much has been made about the results of a virtual charter school study which, at best, is severely flawed in its methodology and results. The problem with the study, which was featured prominently in many media outlets including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is its entire results are based on high-stakes testing. The study fails to talk to a single parent who chose the online charter school for their child. It uses a bizarre and flawed “virtual twin” methodology that takes one child from a school district and assumes all students are exactly the same. How absurd. After all, we know that each child is different. 

As a parent, I believe that testing is necessary and when done properly, the results can be a tool to measure my child’s success and performance. But that’s just it – it should be used to measure an individual student’s success, not an overall school’s performance. These high-stakes tests should never be used as the logic for shutting down a school. When you do that, you are forcing students out of schools that are working for them and back into a traditional brick-and-mortar public school that previously failed them.

Here’s the reality: Measuring overall school performance by lumping every child into the same category and assessing them as a whole through high-stakes testing might be the easiest route, but it’s certainly not the best or most accurate. We need to focus less on testing and more on evaluating individual student learning to determine how a school and its teachers are performing.

Our children are not virtual twins or cogs in a wheel built to evaluate teachers and schools. Teachers and schools are there to help our children. In this spirit, testing should be designed to measure individual student progress so parents can make informed decisions about their child’s education and the schools that work best for them.  We need to trust parents to make these decisions, not bureaucrats looking at school-wide averages.

It’s encouraging to see that the U.S. House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act last week, a step forward in returning education decisions back to parents and states. This legislation allows for greater flexibility to pursue more student-centered accountability. While the bill still requires testing, it does allow states the opportunity to design testing and accountability systems that empower parents. I hope the Senate will do the same as the House, and that President Obama will sign this legislation.

When Washington gets out of the way, we will increase student-centered accountability and focus on individual student learning. Our children will be better served because of it.

Isnt that what we all want?