Bad News for Testing Advocates


It only gets worse for testing advocates, who cannot seem to get out of their own way.  First we learned that 20% of 3rd-8th grade students in New York State opted out of the state testing this Spring, and now two national polls show that even more than 20% of adults approve of opting out.   Bear in mind that current federal law requires that 95% of students be tested. Districts where more than 5% of students opt out can be punished.

The annual Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll reports that 41% approve, while a poll conducted by EdNext puts the figure at 25%. Some who oppose opting out are spinning this as a defeat for the protestors because more oppose opting out than support it, but that’s just plain silly because of the fed’s 95% rule.  Both 25% and 41% are a long long long long way from 5%.

What’s even more revealing is how tone deaf the testing advocates seem to be.  Saying stuff like “Yes, perhaps there are too many tests, but these tests are important so please don’t skip them,”  That’s not leadership. Strong leaders would be taking steps to reduce the number of tests and suggesting alternatives ways of assessing.  Other so-called leaders are issuing vague threats against parents and educators who support opting out, which is never a good idea.

NPR’s reliable Anya Kamenetz has written a interesting analysis of the two polls, cleverly called “Two Polls Span Two Poles,” which I am quoting extensively from, below:

“When it comes to opting out, it’s a little harder to resolve the apparent contradiction between the two polls.

PDK/Gallup asked

“Do you think that all parents with children in the public schools should be allowed to excuse their child from taking one or more standardized tests?”

When asked this way, 41 percent said YES and 44 percent said NO.

EdNext asked,

“Some people say that ALL students should take state tests in math and reading. Others say that parents should decide whether or not their children take these tests. Do you support or oppose letting parents decide whether to have their children take state math and reading tests?

When asked this way, 25 percent said YES and 59 percent said NO.

Paul Peterson, the editor-in-chief of EdNext and a professor at Harvard, points to “excuse” as a key word in the other guy’s poll that he says is designed to sway people. “We do it all the time — we give students excuses from class for seeing the doctor, or excuses for being tardy. So ‘excuses’ is a very sweet word.” (Starr resists drawing comparisons, saying, “we’re considered a really unbiased view of Americans’ perspectives.”)

At the same time, the EdNext poll mentions that the test is a state requirement, so maybe that makes opting out sound like a bigger deal.

No matter how you slice it, both polls show most people don’t support allowing parents to choose whether to opt their children out of tests. And the Gallup poll says most Americans wouldn’t choose to opt out their own kids.”

Unfortunately Ms. Kamenetz doesn’t connect the dots regarding the magnitude of the dissent, but she ends with the all important insight that parents are looking for something better to replace testing.

That’s where leaders need to step up.  I wrote in this space recently about the value of an arts-based curriculum, but there are other equally interesting and valuable ways to approach the education of children.  Today’s technology offers unprecedented opportunities for ‘blending’ good teaching with technology, an issue we explore in depth in “School Sleuth: The Case of the Wired Classroom,” which will be on most PBS stations this fall.  “Deeper Learning” has become associated with the Common Core, unfortunately, but the premise–Dig Deep, Explore and Master–is too valuable to be overlooked.

Never forget the wisdom of Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do.”  What do we want our children doing, repeatedly, in their hours in school?  Regurgitating or being challenged? Prepping for tests so the people in charge can rank teachers, or doing work that interests them and prepares them for a productive adulthood?

As the lawyers say, “Asked and answered.”

4 thoughts on “Bad News for Testing Advocates

  1. Please see Report on the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education for alternatives.
    Assessment OF education can be replaced by assessment FOR
    (In the service of) education.
    Assessment can be used to cultivate
    Ability as well as to measure developed ability.


    • Assessment is only as good as the information gathered and it’s application to the education of the child. The current testing fiasco not only does not collect credible information, it arrives too late to the teacher to serve any purpose.

      How is this rectified? Begin with whole child assessment as is allowed by the Collins Sanders amendment to ESEA. ( concept at ) However. this cannot be done at the state level. Assessment must be ongoing in the classroom in order to allow for a gathering of quality information. The state can oversee as much as they want for accountability. Not only does this allow for more quality information about the child, it is spread out through the year thus assuring kids don’t have to sit in a room for hours at as time to bubble the mandated answers.

      It is extremely important that the quality information gathered is utilized within the curriculum. To accomplish this, we will soon clearly understand that every child is different. They don’t fit into a box. Dr. Howard Gardner said “The biggest mistake of past centuries in teaching has been to treat all children as if they were variants of the same individual, and thus to feel justified in teaching them the same subjects in the same way”.

      And once there is whole child assessment, then we miraculously we have a whole child curriculum. And once we have credible information on the educational needs of the child, we realize that the system of education was never designed to serve all kids, and that system must be changed.


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