High-Stakes Testing

Over the past several years, our students have seen a dramatic expansion of testing. For example, in Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), children currently take 20 or 25 (or even more) high-stakes-tests a year. We need to ask how much of the year is now spent preparing for tests and taking tests? In many of our schools, computer labs have become testing facilities and are no longer available for classes for weeks on end. In districts throughout Southwest PA, the curriculum has narrowed, with a hyper-focus on reading and math test scores; and many schools have even introduced additional testing in art and music, taking away more precious class time.

We believe in real learning and more learning time for our children. We support quality assessments that help our children learn and provide meaningful information to teachers to help them meet the needs of individual students. We want tests, ideally designed by teachers, which align with the curriculum 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 any of these requirements. Abundant evidence demonstrates that one-size-fits-all testing does not work, and many in the community are concerned that the high-stakes attached to so many tests are actually harming our students and schools. We are particularly worried about the disproportionate impact high-stakes-testing may be having on our poorest students, most struggling students, and students of color. In a nutshell:

  • Too many of the tests are not objective, reliable, or good measures of student achievement.[i]
  • Students are learning how to take high-stakes-tests, but not actual content: when they are tested on the same material in a different format, they cannot demonstrate any real subject mastery.[ii]
  • High-stakes-tests can cause harmful stress for children by putting pressure on them to not only demonstrate their knowledge but to represent the effectiveness of their teachers and their schools.[iii]
  • High-stakes-tests limit the curriculum, particularly when combined with budget cuts, by narrowing the focus to reading and math: districts cut what doesn’t “count,” such as world languages, civics, and the arts.
  • The proliferation of high-stakes testing dramatically reduces actual learning time as students spend more time in testing and on test-prep.
  • The quantity and emphasis on testing changes the culture in our schools.
  • Schools that perform poorly on high-stakes-tests are labeled “failures,” have resources taken away from them (rather than given additional assistance), and can be threatened with closure. These schools are usually in communities of color.
  • School districts and other programs add additional stakes by making test results count as extra weight in magnet lotteries or for gifted program entrance.
  • The majority of high-stakes tests are written by and benefit the bottom line of a handful of large international corporations. For instance, the new School Performance Profile system, largely based on student test scores, cost us taxpayers $2.7 million to develop over the past three years and it will cost an estimated $838,000 every year to maintain. [Post-Gazette, 10-5-13] This does not include the five-year, $201.1 million contract Pennsylvania made with Data Recognition Corporation to administer high-stakes-tests to our students. [PennLive.com, 12-1-11]


What are the concerns about high-stakes tests for students?

How does high-stakes testing affect our schools?

What are some of the high-stakes for teachers?

  • Talking about Testing“: latest evidence shows tests measure poverty, even those used to evaluate teachers
  • The VAM Sham“: concerns about using student test scores to evaluate teacher performance

How can we work together to reduce high-stakes testing and promote more learning?

Additional resources:

[i] From Fairtest.org, “What’s wrong with standardized tests.”

[ii] Daniel Koretz, Measuring up: What educational testing really tells us (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

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