To my knowledge, the United States is the only nation in the world that requires students to take standardized tests every year from grades 3-8. I believe that it is surely the only advanced nation that requires annual testing in these grades. The tests are required by federal law, a hangover from George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and the requirement was re-enacted in the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015.

This testing regime has been in place since 2002, when the law was signed by President Bush the first. The consequences attached to the tests have been harsh in many states, which use them to stigmatize students, teachers, and schools. Teachers have been fired, and schools have been closed based on test scores. That is called test-based accountability, and there is growing evidence that TBA is ineffective. NAEP scores have been flat since 2013. The number of people entering teaching has declined sharply. Schools have cut back on the arts, physical education, and other subjects that are not “counted” in the test score calculus. It is difficult to find any real benefits to our national investment in high-stakes testing.

Why do our policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels continue to require and enforce annual testing, despite the non-existent benefits? I believe that testing survives for two reasons: One is that there is a lobby that loves testing, composed of testing corporations and groups like Democrats for Education Reform, the hedge fund managers organization. The other is that our policymakers are still inhaling the stale fumes of NCLB and the non-existent “Texas Miracle.” It is hard to break away from a practice, even a bad practice, that has become ingrained. Annual testing began with NCLB, became more punitive with Race to the Top, and survived in ESSA. Bad habits are hard to change.

Testing authorities have a general rule. Tests should not be used for any purpose other than the one for which they are intended. Tests are supposed to be diagnostic; they are supposed to provide teachers with information to help them improve instruction. They never do, because the results are reported long after the student has left the teacher who administered the test and they never provide enough detail about the strengths and weaknesses of individual children to be useful.

Standardized tests should not be used for high school graduation or for firing teachers or closing schools. Yet they are. Obviously, they are misused on a regular basis.

So, I have a modest proposal.

I am not aware of any legal requirement that the annual tests required by Congress must be offered in the spring.

Why not give the tests in the first week of school and use only a test whose results may be returned within a month? Let machines score the standardized questions, and let teachers score the constructed responses. The testing vendor would know that they would be chosen only if they could report the results in a month, in a format that informs teachers what students do and do not know. That way, the teacher can find out where students are as they begin the year and tailor instruction to address the needs of the students.

That way, tests would no longer be high-stakes. They would be expressly designed for diagnostic purposes, to help teachers help students. The results would come too early to misuse the tests to stigmatize students, punish teachers, and close schools. There would be no punishments attached to the tests, but plenty of valuable information to help teachers.

How would we know how schools are doing?

We could rely on the National Assessment of Progress, which reports on states and many districts and is disaggregated by race, gender, disability, and other categories. It reports on achievement gaps as well.

With this fairly simple but drastic change, we could put testing in its proper place. We could stop terrorizing students and teachers.

We could let teachers gain at least a month, maybe two, for instruction instead of test prep.

Tell me what you think.

Some of you, I know, will tell me why all testing is a waste of time.

But so long as the requirement for annual testing is in the law, there must be a good faith effort to comply.

Why not comply in a way that is not harmful to students, teachers, or schools, but that might actually provide useful information?