Daniel Koretz is one of the leading authorities on testing in the United States. A professor at Harvard University, he has written two important books about testing–its uses and misuses.

The first was Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us.

His latest is The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. 

He recently wrote an article about how the federal government’s demand for high-stakes testing has actually undermined education.

He wrote:

In December, we received more bad news about the achievement of American students: Our 15-year-olds made no significant progress in math and reading on PISA, the largest of the international tests. This followed on the heels of a new report from our National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which showed no real progress in reading or math for fourth or eighth grade students for the past decade, and longer for reading.

The routine debate is underway about how bad this news is, but such arguments mostly miss a core lesson: America’s school reform movement has plainly failed. It’s time to face up to this failure and think about new approaches for improving education.

The routine debate is underway about how bad this news is, but such arguments mostly miss a core lesson: America’s school reform movement has plainly failed.

There have been numerous reforms over the past two decades, but at the heart of them are efforts to pressure educators to raise test scores. The idea is deceptively simple. Tests measure important things we want students to learn. Hold educators accountable for raising scores, and they will teach kids more. And by focusing accountability on low-scoring groups — most often by setting uniform targets via state or federal laws, such as No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act — we will close achievement gaps.

Unfortunately, this concept has turned out to be more simplistic than simple, and it hasn’t worked. Even though the primary focus has been reading and math tests, reading hasn’t improved. Test-based accountability has contributed to math gains among younger students, but these improvements ended a decade ago, were achieved in part by taking time away from other subjects, and don’t persist until students graduate from school, making them of questionable value. The effort to improve equity has also failed.

As I showed decades ago, the gap between racial and ethnic minorities and non-minority students started to narrow before the rush into test-based accountability, but that progress has ground to a halt in recent years. At the same time, as Sean Reardon at Stanford University has shown, the gap between rich and poor students has widened on a variety of independent tests. The gap between high- and low-scoring students overall has also recently grown larger.

“Reform” that involves mandating high-stakes testing is a farce. Some politicians have claimed that the way to make kids smarter is to test them more frequently and to make the tests harder and harder. Koretz says this is nonsense. I say that the politicians should be required to take and pass the tests they mandate for helpless students.

It is good to have our concerns and doubts about the pernicious effects of high-stakes testing confirmed by one of the nation’s leading testing experts.