Congress replaced No Child Left Behind with Every Student Succeeds Act, promising to return control to the states. However, with the federal government loath to give up power over telling states and districts what they must do, there are signals that we can expect a showdown as states begin the implementation of ESSA.
Congress ignored the growing nationwide opt out movement against standardized testing and, with ESSA, carried over the No Child Left Behind testing mandate that requires testing in grades three through eight and once in high schools. Parents are critical of how the tests are being used to evaluate students and teachers while some educators complain that the tests are poorly designed.
Students are being subjected to a frenzy of federally mandated assessments that are used to compare them, their schools, and their states to others. Testing has become a central preoccupation in education and, rather than being a measure of acquired knowledge, has become an end in itself.
What parents already know has now been confirmed by research. A 2014-2015 study by the Council of the Great City Schools found that students take far too many standardized tests and that those tests are not resulting in higher achievement for their children.
- Average public school student takes 112 mandatory standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and the end of the twelfth grade;
- Teacher prepared tests also given, sometimes at the same time and in the same subject;
- Heavy test burden at high school level with high school graduation assessments and optional college-entry exams, special courses or programs, and other assessments often mandated by the state, NCLB waivers, or Race to the Top provisions;
- Test data returned to the school too late for immediate instructional needs;
- Considerable redundancy in exams that districts give;
- Tests sometimes have contradictory results;
- National educational assessment system that is “incoherent and lacks any overarching strategy”;
- Most tests administered by schools “do not assess students on any particular content knowledge”; and
- Some of tests are not used for purpose for which they were designed.
Using tests for purposes for which they were not designed is addressed by W. James Popham, professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, who writes that the “effectiveness of both teachers and schools is now evaluated largely using students’ scores on annually administered standardized tests, but most of these tests are simply unsuitable for this intended purpose.” He identifies three types of tests: 1) comparison, 2) instructional, and 3) evaluation.
According to Professor Popham, for nearly a century the U.S. has been enamored with comparative tests. That preoccupation dates back to World War I when a group intelligence test, the Army Alpha, was developed for more than 1.7 million U.S. army recruits. The test compared candidates to identify the very best candidates for officer-training programs. Although the Army tests were later reanalyzed and found that the group comparisons were flawed, nevertheless, these tests led to future educational tests being constructed for comparative capabilities rather than being purpose-specific.
Popham maintains that, “Too many children in our schools are harmed by these methods because educators are basing their decisions on inaccurate information supplied by the wrong tests.” Not only are children harmed but so are schools and teachers, says Popham. Under NCLB, student scores were used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. The goal was higher scores, without regard to whether students acquired any knowledge.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (the nation’s report card) scores provide evidence that students are not being well-educated. After 10 years of federal education policies based on test-based accountability, not only has there been no improvement in student performance, but actually a decline in student performance.
Testing to comply with federal accountability mandates has become our national education policy without any underlying vision of what education should be or how we can improve our schools.
The public understands, even if Congress does not, that the federal government has absolutely no Constitutional authority over education.
State after state is responding to pressures over glitches in computerized tests and to the grassroots testing reform movement that seeks to rollback education policies requiring the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.
ESSA and the continued heavy handiness of government just may have the unintended consequence of American taxpayers forcing the decentralization of education and returning control and money to where they rightfully belong — to the states and local communities.