Strategies to Reduce High-Stakes Testing

News flash: I am not against testing. Most parents, teachers, and even students agree that we ought to assess what students learn. Quality assessments help children learn and provide meaningful information to teachers to help them meet the needs of individual students. Tests ought to align with the curriculum (and ideally be designed by teachers) and give timely, informative results to parents and students. Yet the skyrocketing use of high-stakes-testing in our classrooms (such as the PSSAs, Keystones, GRADE, CDTs, CBAs, and many others) does not appear to meet these requirements.

Significantly, as we talked about in yesterday’s post, parents and educators are increasingly worried about the high-stakes for students attached to high-stakes testing. That piece has been getting a lot of attention: there are several thought provoking comments on the blog (and I encourage you to contribute your own), and the Washington Post just published the article. [Washington Post, 3-11-14]

So as we think about the growing negative consequences for students, what can we do together to address the over-use and misuse of high-stakes-testing? Here are some strategies:

  • Sign the petition: ask the Pittsburgh Public School board and administration to review all required tests; reduce unnecessary assessments; and end the use of high-stakes tests to make decisions that have an inequitable impact on students. Sign the petition here.
  • Talk to the school: share your concerns about high-stakes testing with your child’s teachers and principal. Find out which tests they support, or do not support, and why.
  • Ask for alternatives: ask teachers for evidence of your child’s authentic learning, such as projects and portfolio pieces. What do teachers feel is a good demonstration of what your child has actually learned?
  • Tell the media: write a letter to the editors about the overuse and misuse of testing.
  • Spread the word: share your message with your religious, community, or parent group. Host conversations and find out what others are experiencing.
  • Meet with legislators: take a group and visit your elected officials, especially state legislators. They need to hear from their constituents.
  • Come to the debate: ask the Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates where they stand on high-stakes testing and what they plan to do: Tuesday, April 8th, 6PM at Pittsburgh Obama (more information coming soon).
  • Support a federal hearing: ask your federal representatives to support the Network for Public Education resolution calling for a congressional hearing into testing. See the resolution’s list of 11 essential questions that our legislators ought to ask in that hearing: Washington Post, 3-9-14.
  • Consider opting out: learn more about opting students out of high-stakes testing at United Opt Out and at the new national coalition, Testing Resistance and Reform Spring.

What would you add? How can we work together to promote more learning and less testing?


3 thoughts on “Strategies to Reduce High-Stakes Testing

  1. There’s something else we can do, although it would take some time and reflection. Make a list of all the things you want your PPS student to learn this year. Come up with examples of how you’ll know whether your student has learned each one of them. Now go to the State Assessment System’s webpage with examples of tests (either Google “get past PSSA test copies” or go to

    Compare and contrast what’s on your list and what’s in the State’s test examples. This should give you a feel for what tests can say and what they can’t about our students’ abilities.

    There are other test features that are more complex. If your child is learning arithmetic, she has to demonstrate her knowledge of adding more than once to be sure of her skill. So a test of something simple can end up taking a lot of time.

  2. Very useful ideas. Think also of organizing community meetings/forums, or perhaps house parties, on this issue. I was just talking with an activist in a small city. Last fall, they held a public meeting on testing. 350 people came. They got useful info, but more importantly they recognized their individual concerns were widely shared. That sparked more conversations and the start of organizing. Now they are holding an event, going into state testing season, to focus on what people can do – such as the things listed above. A public forum can also be covered by the media; politicians can be invited to listen to the people – that is, a public event is also organizing, protesting, demanding change.

  3. Pingback: “Unprecedented” numbers opt out of state tests–what’s next? | Digital

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