HIGH-STAKES TESTS FOR STUDENTS OFTEN FAIL TO MAKE THE GRADE,
NATIONAL ANALYSIS FINDS
The Education Policy Studies Laboratory (EPSL) would like to call your
attention to “The Inevitable Corruption of Indicators and Educators Through
High-Stakes Testing,” released by the Great Lakes Center for Education
Research and Practice.
EAST LANSING, Mich. (Friday, March 18, 2005)—America’s public schools are
setting goals and making harmful, irreversible decisions based on test
results that in an increasing number of cases can’t be trusted, said an
independent study from the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State
The report, made possible by a grant from the Great Lakes Center for
Education Research and Practice, determined that the pressure of high-stakes
tests is forcing school districts to take short cuts to avoid being labeled
as failing for not meeting certain benchmarks. As a result, their scores
are subject to corruption.
“Policy makers have oversold the public on the notion that high-stakes test
scores are the best way to hold schools accountable,” said Teri Moblo,
director of the Great Lakes Center. “Because of No Child Left Behind and
other measures, school districts know that the results of one or two tests
determine if they are considered successful. This creates enormous pressure
on educators and their students, because long-term decisions are being made
based on scores that can’t be trusted.”
David Berliner and Sharon Nichols, co-authors of the report, “The Inevitable
Corruption of Indicators and Educators Through High-Stakes Testing,” point
to examples of how unbridled pressure to reach unrealistic goals, whether in
the boardroom, on the playing field, or in our own government, can
inevitably lead to a “beat-the-system” mentality.
“Now we see this kind of mentality seeping into our schools, where future
generations are training merely to beat the system,” Berliner said.
“Learning subject matter in depth is no longer the goal of schools in
high-stakes states. We are witnessing proof of a well-known social science
law, which basically says the greater the pressure to perform at a certain
level, the more likely people will find a way to distort and corrupt the
system to achieve favorable results.”
Dr. Berliner suggests scrapping high-stakes tests and building an
accountability system that is less inviting to cheating and distortions, and
better measures students’ and schools’ achievement. A second report on
high-stakes testing commissioned by the Great Lakes Center due out in the
coming weeks will look at the relationship between the pressures to succeed
on high-stakes tests in a particular state, and whether that pressure
actually does improve student learning.
In this study, however, the researchers looked at other effects that
high-stakes tests have on our nation’s school systems. Hundreds of news
articles about high-stakes testing were examined. “Because it would be
impossible to comprehensively catalogue every incident where high-stakes
testing led to serious problems, our survey seems only to have uncovered the
tip of the iceberg,” said Berliner.
Some of the findings included:
• Teachers’ and administrators’ inability to be flexible about test
administration meant a 14-year-old student whose brother was recently
murdered was not allowed to be excused from a test;
• Eighty percent of North Carolina’s elementary school teachers report
they spent more than 20 percent of their total teaching time practicing for
• In New York, city school officials were accused of pushing thousands
of students out of high school and into high school equivalency programs.
Students who enrolled in such programs did not count as dropouts and didn’t
have to pass the Regents’ exams necessary for a high school diploma; and
• A Georgia science teacher estimated 10 percent of the questions on
the science section lacked a “best” answer because of errors in the
information provided to students. State administrators acknowledged the
errors even as some students failed to receive a high school diploma because
they didn’t pass the tests.
“Teachers are desperate to help their students and schools succeed. We
found example after example where teachers worked very hard to help students
from challenged schools raise their scores, but in the end they were still
labeled as failing,” said Berliner.
Drs. Berliner and Nichols identified 10 trends that outline the consequences
of high-stakes testing, which ultimately all negatively impact the quality
of education for our nation’s children. The trends are:
• Administrator and Teacher Cheating;
• Student Cheating;
• Exclusion of Low-Performance Students from Testing;
• Misrepresentation of Student Dropouts;
• Teaching to the Test;
• Narrowing the Curriculum;
• Conflicting Accountability Ratings;
• Questions about the Meaning of Proficiency;
• Declining Teacher Morale; and
• Score Reporting Errors.
The full report is available at www.greatlakescenter.org. The mission of
the Great Lakes Center is to identify, develop, support, publish, and widely
disseminate empirically sound research on education policy and practices
with the explicit goal of improving the quality of public education for all
students within the Great Lakes Region.
This document is also available on the web at:
Contact: David C. Berliner (480) 965-3921 (email) firstname.lastname@example.org or Teri
Moblo (248) 444-7071 (email) email@example.com or Alex Molnar (480) 965-1886