Walt Gardner is an experienced educator who writes a blog in Education Week. In a Memorial Day post, he warns that the anti-testing movement is going too far, too fast, and is likely to generate a backlash. He argues that the public is entitled to know how schools are doing, and standardized tests provide them with information they want and need. He concludes that the tests should be better, more carefully vetted, and serve diagnostic purposes.


His concern is reasonable, but I don’t think he is fully cognizant of the reasons that so many parents have decided to opt out.


Let me run through a few of them and invite you to add others.


  1. The current tests have no diagnostic value. No one is allowed to see how specific children answered, what they got right or wrong, where they need extra help.
  2. No one is allowed to see the questions and “right answers” other than the testing companies. So, unless there is a leak, no one can judge whether the questions are coherent and developmentally appropriate, or whether the answers are ambiguous or incorrect.
  3. Children sit for reading and math tests over six days that may last for many hours, more than the bar exams or the SAT. This is cruel and unusual punishment.
  4. Given the high stakes attached to test scores–the school may be stigmatized or closed, the staff may be fired or get a bonus–the pressure to raise scores is overwhelming. This pressure leads to predictable consequences: teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, cheating.
  5. The heavy emphasis on testing warps education, distorts its meaning.
  6. The most vociferous fans of standardized testing send their own children to private schools. When will they give their children the medicine they prescribe for other people’s children.
  7. The tests themselves are heavily biased by socioeconomic status. Students from affluent families typically are in the top half of the normal curve, while those who do not have the advantages associated with affluence land in the bottom half. It is very hard to escape the bell curve.
  8. Instead of using a measure that is normed on a bell curve, why not judge students by a criterion-referenced measure, akin to a driver’s test? Every student should have a fair opportunity to succeed, not in comparison to others, but by measures that judge readiness for life.
  9. Few people will ever take a standardized test after they leave high school. Bubble guessing is not a useful skill.
  10. For most of our history, students were evaluated by their teachers, not by a bubble test. Then, in many states, students were tested in grades 4 and 8. Now all children in grades 3-8 are tested every year. This development has been a bonanza for testing companies but has had no positive effects for students, teachers, or schools.


I say, until we come up with better, more valuable, reliable, and effective ways of measuring student progress, let’s ditch the tests we have now. They accomplish nothing, at great cost.