Daniel Katz of Seton Hall University pulled apart a recent editorial in the New York Times which hailed the preservation of annual testing in federal law as a great and necessary step towards improving education for all children, especially the neediest who would otherwise be overlooked. This is the same line we have heard about the virtues of No Child Left Behind since 2002, when it was signed into law. Without annual testing, would we know how any student was doing? Would we know if teachers and schools were accountable? Etc.


Without annual testing, the editorial asserts, the country would have “no way of knowing whether students are learning anything or not.” Really? Is there no one at the New York Times who has heard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress? It seems that every time a story appears in the Times, there is the same lament about how we have “no way” to know, etc., but we do! NAEP tests scientific samples of students in every state and in many cities. Why must we squander billions on testing every child every year, when the same money could be spent to reduce class sizes, to employ teachers of the arts, to hire guidance counselors, and to restore libraries?


Katz writes:


Such statements might have been viable in 2001 when the NCLB legislation was passed with bipartisan support, but after nearly a decade and half, there is no evidence to be found that test based accountability is telling us anything we did not already know from other means, nor is there evidence that the children whose plights provided NCLB’s rationale are prospering. To be honest, at this point in our policy cycle, it takes a love of annual standardized testing similar to Smeagol’s love of the One Ring to be blinded to how thoroughly it has failed to improve our schools.


He then cites the latest NAEP data to show that after 13 years of annual testing, gains have ground to a halt, and achievement gaps persist.


If we mark the NLCB era from the 2002 test administration, then we have to conclude that, in the 8th grade reading NAEP, the gap in scores between white and black students has closed a grand total of one point. The 4th grade gap has closed a more generous four points in the same time. In mathematics, the NCLB era has seen a score gap in both 4th and 8th grade close all of three points.


Paul Barton reported years ago in a study of the Black-White Achievement Gap for the Educational Testing Service that the most significant narrowing of the gap occurred from 1973-1988 (Katz includes the graphs from NAEP). Barton attributed the narrowing of the gap to racial integration, reduced class sizes, more early childhood education, and increased economic opportunities for African American families.


Yet in the era of high-stakes testing, the gap has widened and remained persistently large.


Katz writes:


There is a limited role that standardized test data can play in a comprehensive system of school monitoring, development, and accountability, but it must play a small role at best in coordination with a system that is premised on support and development. However, no school accountability system, regardless of premise, is capable of turning around a 40 year long, society spanning, trend towards inequality and segregation. That requires far more than clinging to annual, mass, standardized testing as our most vital means of giving every child access to an equitable education, and if The Times and other testing advocates really cannot see past that, then they are not merely shortsighted; they are clinging to damaging and delusional policies. A bit like our, poor, deluded Smeagol and his final cry of “Precious!”