Pro-Con: "Should states have to establish testing standards in order to spend federal grants?"

by Matt Moore

If you go on a trip without a map, it is quite likely you will not arrive at your destination, and wherever you do end up will be of little consequence. Our education system is on just such a journey. We don't really know what works, what doesn't, what the children are learning or where the problems are; but at the same time we demand that our schools improve. Testing is the map that can help us determine where we stand, where we should concentrate our efforts and how far we've come at the end of the day.

President George W. Bush's education plan recognizes that testing is important. States would be required to implement annual reading and math tests for every child in grades 3 through 8 in exchange for increased flexibility from federal regulations.

The policy has been popular. Leaders across the political spectrum - including ultra-liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-N.Y.) - have supported the President's testing proposal. And it is a good policy. When the federal government spends money, it should require some accounting of how the funds are spent. Thus states should be required to implement some type of system to measure their results.

A comprehensive statewide testing system would give teachers and administrators insight into which pedagogical techniques are working and which are not having the desired effects. Tests would also allow parents to know how their student, school and district are doing. And tests would help decision-makers determine whether reform measures are improving education or having unintended consequences.

Opponents of testing argue that standardized tests force teachers to teach to the test and that standardized tests do not capture the full range of student knowledge; besides, some kids are just bad test takers. However, most of the arguments against tests are really arguments against unimaginative, fill-in-the-bubble exams and how the results are used, not against testing in and of itself.

Under the Bush plan, states would develop their own testing systems. States should be encouraged to construct their tests in an imaginative and creative way, and ensure that test scores are just one component of an accountability package. Plus, states should be responsible in the way that test scores are used - determinations about whether teachers are promoted or fired should be based on more than just student scores on a single test.

Of course, testing by itself cannot improve America's schools - test results provide us with a guidepost, not a solution. However, it can provide students, parents, teachers, administrators and policy makers with a clearer picture of the state of our education system. Attempting reform without knowing the full scope and dimensions of the problem is ill-advised, much like trying to take a road trip to an unfamiliar destination without a map. Of course, like a roadmap, tests cannot actually get you to your destination, but they can be helpful in pointing you in the right direction.

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