Jack Schneider, author of Excellence for All, points out:
As determined by multiple-choice tests—the dominant way that we measure it in the United States—achievement is not about how students can think or write or persuade. It is not about how they can perform experiments or produce original research. It is not about their prowess in art or civics or robotics. Instead, it is about memorized minutiae and good guesses. We accept this approach to measurement only because it is so common. And it is common not because it actually measures achievement, but because it is time-efficient and cost-effective.
Teachers have always used tests of various kinds to assess how well students are learning and which students are falling behind. However these new tests are aimed at assessing teachers and schools. The tests are designed to measure school ‘outputs’ or ‘products’ rather than for educational purposes. In the New York, for example, tests don’t provide any useful feedback for teachers as they often don’t get the scores back till the students have moved on to the next grade.
The Basic Skills Test in NSW introduced in 1989 tested a narrow range of basic skills such as spelling, punctuation, numbers and measurement. It was not able to be used for diagnostic purposes; provided inadequate feedback to parents who were concerned with their child’s ability to gain a broader understanding of the world as well as attain basic skills; and the results were provided to teachers too late to be used to pinpoint individual weaknesses and help to improve them. Instead students “were compared with each other and plotted against a State average”.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) in the UK found that most teachers do not believe that standardised tests are a reliable measure of student performance. A survey of US teachers found that only 7 percent thought standardised testing provided an effective measure of the quality of schools and less than 10 percent thought they were particularly useful, accurate, beneficial, worthwhile or valid. In contrast 42 percent said that standardised testing was completely unhelpful to their teaching.
Blame is shifted to the poorly performing school and factors such as a lack of government funding are ignored. Schools that are funded at $5,000 per student are compared with schools that get $15,000 per student, as if the difference in funding is of no account. This makes accountability programs into “little more than ceremonies for awarding prizes, honors, and extra finances” to wealthy schools attended by the children of affluent families.
The business-oriented view that schools alone are responsible for differing levels of student performance – and by implication that all students begin at the same point in terms of knowledge, skills, parental support and resources – enables governments and parents to judge schools in terms of student outcomes and to find many public schools to be deficient.
Does testing really measure anything more than the ability of children to take tests? The schools that need help can be easily identified without testing; they are the ones that are poorly resourced. Yet when test results are used as a mechanism for accountability, poor test results – instead of indicating a need for additional resources – are sometimes used to deprive a school of funds (see High Stakes Testing). Testing makes schools accountable for student performance but the government – the senior bureaucrats and the politicians – are not held accountable for the lack of resources to provide for an adequate education in those schools.
In both the UK and the US, the impression that student performance is getting better has been created by declining test standards. For example, a report by the Commercial Club of Chicago found that:
There is a general perception that Chicago's public schools have been gradually improving over time... At the elementary level, state assessment standards have been so weakened that most of the 8th graders who "meet" these standards have little chance to succeed in high school or to be ready for college... The performance of Chicago's high schools is abysmal—with about half the students dropping out of the non-selective-enrollment schools, and more than 70 percent of 11th grade students failing to meet state standards. The trend has remained essentially flat over the past several years.
Similarly, in New York, according to Diane Ravitch:
the scoring of the state tests in New York was dumbed down dramatically from 2006-2009, and it became possible for students to reach Level 2 by random guessing. Proficiency rates on state tests soared dramatically at the same time that the state's scores on NAEP remained flat. As a result of the state's dumbed-down tests, New York City's accountability system crashed, and 97 percent of all elementary and junior high schools were rated A or B because of their alleged gains on the state tests.
If you have any examples or updates you would like to contribute please email them to me and I will add them here. Please give references for where you sourced the information.