NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Rationale For Student Testing

July 31, 2001

The education-standards and testing reform movement is under attack. The nation's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, recently passed several resolutions denouncing high-stakes testing.

School administrators in Los Angeles and New York are warning that pending federal education reforms will tempt urban school leaders to lower their performance goals in order to avoid sanctions.

But education specialists say the entire testing and education reform movement which has swept the nation over the past decade was a response to miserable student performance -- particularly among minorities -- and the cause should not be forgotten.

Back in 1989:

  • Average scores for 17-year-old black students in reading and math were about the same as those for 13-year-old whites.
  • According to international testing that compares U.S. students' performance to that of students in 41 other countries, even America's highest-scoring math students turned in test scores that are no better than average scores in higher-performing countries.
  • Survey data from the Business Roundtable cited companies having difficulty finding workers with even entry-level math and literacy skills.
  • In fact, one New York company had to test 60,000 applicants to fill just 3,000 jobs, according to the Roundtable.

Progress since then has been slow. Just last year, only 32 percent of fourth-graders rated "proficient" on federal reading tests.

Education reform advocates warn that students in urban schools are still at a disadvantage and there is plenty of room for improvement. So reforms, including accountability through testing, are just as necessary now as they were a decade ago.

Source: Editorial, "Premature Retreat on Testing Threatens Students' Progress," USA Today, July 31, 2001.

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