Standardized tests don’t hold muster: Opinion

The former general counsel for the Los Angeles Unified School District writes in the Los Angeles Times that standardized tests, as they have evolved under No Child Left Behind and would continue under the Every Child Achieves Act, are flawed measures of teacher effectiveness.


(WWYD? / Flickr Creative Commons)

Harold Kwalwasser cites evidence that test results, even for a specific teacher, have a high degree of variability. A teacher may be highly effective one year and receive a much lower rating the next. Plus, many experts doubt any solid relationship between test scores on today’s standardized tests and teacher effectiveness. This skepticism is no different today than it was in 1980, as shown in research published in the American Educational Research Journal.

A look at the database of California test scores, recently made available to the public, he says, shows a high correlation between student demographics, particularly in terms of poverty and race, and their test scores, with low-income minority students scoring lower than Whites.

We’ve known for decades that standardized tests are unfair to African Americans, yet we continue to pretend this is not the case as we use these data to evaluate our teachers the same in predominantly White schools as in predominantly African-American classrooms.

But one of the main reasons Mr Kwalwasser says test scores shouldn’t be used for teacher evaluation is that kids have no vested interest in the outcome of those tests. They aren’t graded based on their test scores, and in California, those test scores don’t have any impact on the education or educational opportunities a child is given.

He conludes by saying we need to ask …

… whether there is any useful role for standardized tests at all. Civil rights advocates worry that without standardized tests, the troubling disparities in our public education system will sink back into the mists and be hidden from public view. I concur. But we don’t need annual testing to demonstrate the problem. Testing at the end of fourth and eighth grade can meet that need, especially if coupled with college matriculation and dropout rates, SAT or ACT scores, and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate program results.

Holding teachers and schools accountable is important, but the means should be accurate and fair. The current standardized test program doesn’t pass muster.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.