NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"High Stakes" Testing Spreads

August 10, 1999

There are a growing array of tests that educators describe as "high stakes" -- standardized tests that solely or in combination with grades decide whether a student graduates or advances to the next grade level. Such testing -- and the implied accountability of students, parents, teachers and schools for the results -- is highly popular and a growing number of states are adopting such tests.

According to the Education Commission of the States, 18 states now require students to pass a standard exam to graduate, and five more states will implement such tests in the next three years.

However, there is opposition to testing, standards and accountability. Paradoxically, says education researcher Richard P. Phelps, some of the strongest opposition to effective testing seems to come from education professors and experts on testing.

  • For instance, Public Agenda found that, "while supporting standards in concept, professors of education seem reluctant to put into place concrete, high-stakes tests that would signal when kids are meeting the standards."
  • And "Fully 78 percent want less reliance on multiple- choice exams in the schools. [E]ducation for more reliance on portfolios and other authentic assessments."
  • Vocal opponents include "testing policy" researchers at the federally funded Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing; the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy at Boston College; and an advocacy group known as the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest).

Nationwide polls of teachers conducted over three decades by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., the American Federation of Teachers, the Phi Delta Kappan magazine, and Public Agenda show strong teacher support for high-stakes standardized tests, says Phelps.

And many education organizations have endorsed testing, including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which has been the nation's most forceful and vocal advocate for greater use of high-stakes standardized student testing.

Source: Richard P. Phelps, "Why Testing Experts Hate Testing," Fordham Report, January 1999, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 1627 K Street, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20006, (202) 223-5452.


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