Tests are an important and perhaps necessary part of schooling. When used properly, they help teachers assess student progress, show students where they need to improve, and provide parents with crucial information when deciding where to enroll their children. What frustrates parents and teachers is when achievement on standardized tests becomes the primary purpose of schooling, rather than an aid to learning.
Mandating that private schools participating in school choice programs administer the state test can also stifle innovation and diversity and drive schools away, thereby limiting the choices available to families. Fortunately, the private sector can provide less rigid and more comprehensive forms of accountability that will empower families to make informed choices.
The Benefits and Limitations of Testing
Tests can provide valuable information, but the misuse of testing can have significant unintended consequences, particularly when the tests are transformed from diagnostic tools into cudgels. As the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Robert Pondiscio wrote recently, the “data from tests are some of the most valuable intelligence we can access in the struggle to improve our education system.”
However, he cautions, misusing that data can distort the system:
[T]he moment you set out to trigger corrective actions and interventions using tests (which are, after all, designed merely to measure student performance), you are fundamentally shifting their function from providing evidence of student performance to something closer to the very purpose of schooling. This is precisely what has been occurring in our schools over the last decade or more. When parents complain about over-testing, what they are responding to is not the tests themselves—which take up a vanishingly small amount of class time—but the effects of test-and-prep culture, which has fundamentally altered the experience of schooling for our children.