High Stakes Testing | IDEA

High Stakes Testing


The rise of high-stakes standardized testing has taken place over many years with the support of politicians from both major parties. Provoked by the 1983 report A Nation at Risk, pushed forward by President Clinton's Goals 2000 plan, and strengthened by both Presidents Bush and President Obama, the standards and accountability movement -- and specifically high-stakes standardized tests -- has become a fixture in schools around the nation.  

Tests that are "high-stakes" are used to determine whether a student passes into the next grade, whether a teacher retains his or her job or receives a bonus, and whether a school receives penalties such as the removal of the principal or the teachers or more comprehensive changes to the school's approach. Tests that are "standardized" are those in which every student receives the same test across school, district, state, or nation.

Yet it's important to remember that high-stakes standardized tests are only one form of accountability, and a highly flawed one at that. Be sure to take time to look through the many resources on FairTest's website, an organization that for many years has been a leading voice exposing the dangers of high-stakes testing and promoting more equitable and meaningful forms of accountability.

IDEA's Position:

IDEA is opposed to high-stakes standardized testing and the use of standardized testing as the main -- or only -- factor for making large decisions such as student graduation and assessment, teacher assessment, or assessment of an entire school. As one of the most discussed topics in the education debate, standardized testing is a hot topic in research and analysis, and many organizations and educators have published on the subject.

Here are some of the many dangers and problems with the use of high-stakes testing: 


While we are highly critical of high-stakes standardized testing, it’s important to note that the focus on tests has led to increased awareness of the opportunity gap (which so often leads to the widely discussed "achievement gap,") and the disparity of resources and attention to lower-income students and students of color. While the tests are deeply flawed and this finding does not justify their use, we believe that the greater awareness of this gap will lead to policy and practice changes that bring historically marginalized young people more resources, support, and engaging learning experiences.

Taking a cue from Lisa Delpit in Other People’s Children, we are aware that students need to learn to read and write critically in order to access power, and it’s essential to ensure that underserved youth in particular are gaining the skills, opportunities, and supports they need to thrive in the world. However, as the above articles indicate, high-stakes testing is not effective in measuring these skills and the obsessive preparation for tests takes away valuable time that students could use to develop them.

We do believe in accountability. The question isn’t “should we have accountability?,” but rather, “what should schools, students, and teachers be accountable for?"

IDEA believes that schools and educational programs should be engaging places to learn and to work. They should provide young people with the opportunity to be challenged, to be supported, to be leaders, to be active in the broad community, and to be decision-makers. They should provide educators with the opportunity to be mentored, to be in regular dialogue with other educators, to be leaders, to be learners themselves, to be creative in their teaching and classes, and to also be decision-makers. They should be centers of community for parents, families, and the surrounding neighborhood to learn, to come together, and to have a voice in continually building a more just and vibrant community. And we believe all schools should be equitably funded so that no student has to attend a school that is in disrepair, that has inadequate facilities, that is overcrowded with high class size, or that is lacking in key support staff including social workers, guidance counselors, learning specialists, and nurses.


Want to learn more about the High-Stakes Testing? Email IDEA Director of Learning, Dana Bennis at dbennis @ democraticeduction.org