Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, we have allowed standardized testing to swamp our schools, stigmatize our students, and demoralize teachers. For years, test publishers warned against the misuse of tests. Tests should be used only for the purpose for which they are designed. They should be used diagnostically, to help students, not to label them or rank them.

But federal law requires that the tests be misused. Educators are frustrated because they feel helpless. They are forced to teach to the tests, which used to be considered unethical. The current tests cannot be used diagnostically, because teachers are not allowed to review the questions and answers with students after the tests. Those are considered the “intellectual property” of the test publisher. From a diagnostic perspective, the tests are useless. All they can do is rank and sort students, based on a criterion that is completely subjective and arbitrary.

Here is what John Dewey wrote about testing in Democracy and Education, p. 222:

How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work.

What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning.

I have a suggestion.

How about giving the tests in September, when school starts? No one would be judged by test results. No student would be stigmatized, no teacher would be given a low rating, no school would be closed. Whatever information can be gleaned from the test at a point when teschers might find it useful. If there is nothing useful to be gained, it would be clear from the outset, and the tests would do no harm.

Furthermore, states and districts should require the testing companies to reveal the questions that students answered correctly and incorrectly. That way, the teachers would learn what the students need to spend more time on. Without that information, the tests are useless.

The states are the consumers. If they jointly insisted that test publishers release the diagnostic information for every student, the test publishers would comply. If the test publishers refuse to do so, the states should seek different vendors and find those willing to supply the necessary information.