High-Stakes Testing is a Mistake

Too often, the education reform debate is split between two sides

1. Teachers, whose primary interest is diverting school funds from student welfare and to themselves, and
2. Everyone else, who are flabbergasted by the terrible US public education system,

I’m simplifying of course — there are three dimensions of fource and multiple stakeholders, but the American public school teachers as a class have been breathtakingly unconcerned with the needs of others for several generations. Still, understanding that teachers have done nothing to align their interests with other stakeholders (aside from one political party) and act like an abusive monopoly is important to understand the education reform debate.

Unfortunately, these two sides then break down as disagreeing on the issue of testing:

1. Testing should not be used
2. High stakes testing should be used

Teachers oppose testing because they do not want to be accountable for not doing their jobs. This is understandable, but of course dangerous to our nation.

Many education reformers support high stakes testing, because it is easy to politically & logistically easy implement. Unfortunately, testing is invalid to the extent that testing conditions different from desired recall conditions, and if we’re training students to only ‘know’ something in high-stakes pen-and-paper environments, we’re doing them a disservice.

It would be better to fully integrate testing into the curriculum. A personalized device (let’s call it a Skinner Machine, or an iPad) would work with the student to help him understand concepts, show him appropriate & challenging material, and of course continually assess his learning. Low-stakes, continuous, real-world.

Low-stakes and continuous testing would be a form of good testing that would be reliable, standard, valid, and practical. We don’t have them because writing good tests is hard, and teachers are opposed to testing for economic reasons. So as the hard work is getting the testing infrastructure set-up in the first place, high-stakes testing is better than no-testing in the context of the terrible status quo. But good testing — low-stakes and continuous — must be the next step.


That’s how testing should be done.

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