We can’t claim to have found all the answers, but we hope our contributors have raised some important issues in ways that go beyond the usual talking points.
- As Jacqueline Cooper explains, testing can yield vital data on school performance, and help ensure schools meet the needs of students they have historically short-changed. And, as Mike Petrilli notes, it’s crucial for even light-touch regulators to root out the worst schools, which can be especially harmful for low-income families.
- But, as Jason Bedrick outlines, regulators need to have humility when it comes to judging school quality using tests alone, or imposing mandates that could drive some high-quality schools away from choice programs. An over-reliance on testing can be burdensome for schools, as Jane Watt describes, drawing on her experience as a charter school founder.
- Tony Bennett proposes a sort of middle ground: giving schools and districts a choice of a few, relatively lightweight tests that measure students’ progress toward college- and career-ready standards. That, he writes, could give educators more flexibility.
- As Tom Vander Ark shows, it’s time to start thinking about a new approach to testing and accountability that can change the current debate. Lightweight assessments and real-time data on can be useful to teachers, and may eventually usher in the “end of the big test,” but those ideas are still a ways from becoming reality.
Taken together, the contributions show testing can be vital to a well-run school system, but also has real costs that, if unaddressed, can hamper educational choice.
They also point to a new course states can begin to chart, toward a system that might ultimately resolve some of the present controversy while better fulfilling tests’ original purpose: Giving educators and the public clear information about how well their chldren, and their schools, perform.