High Stakes Testing Lunacy (again)

So the State Department of Education in Mississippi suspected that 17 schools (elementary schools) were cheating on the statewide high-stakes testing program. So they asked them if they did. And they said, “No…everything’s fine over here, Chief!” Case closed.

Read this, then you will see why we had to respond:



Dear DA (and Mississippi SDE):

First of all there IS a surefire way to uncover cheating (and it is not asking the cheaters). More on this below the line.

There are several other stupid things about high-stakes testing:

1) They are NOT used to improve individual children’s learning. They are just for political reasons and schools do not need to be involved in politics–they have enough to do with their rightful charge to educate children.

2) Anyone notice that 50% of the kids are always below the percentile known as the 50th percentile? You cannot have sports games without losers. You cannot have a top half without a bottom half, i.e. this sort of assessment has built in a bottom half. How does this help kids? How does it help teachers perform better at teaching? No matter how hard you work with kids to improve, a testing paradigm of this sort makes sure half “fail”! Seems fairly un-bright.

3) The TIME it takes away from real learning is also a tragedy. Kids spend less than an hour a day truly ‘attending’ to learning: meaning alert, absorptive, and retaining knowledge. To fritter it away on tests like these is almost a crime against taxpayers and their children. Some schools are spending more than seven full days prepping for these tests…by cramming with older versions of the same test. Learning psychologists have a lot to say about the ineffectiveness of cramming as a learning strategy. But no one is listening to the researchers on this anyway.

4) Once again we have unconsciously (I hope it is unconscious or we are really, really out in left field on this) accepted the fallacy that a single test score measures learning. This kind of testing is a Huge Red Herring away from what we should be doing in schools: Keeping learning centered around EACH child’s needs, talents, aptitudes, and interests.

Do you REALLY want to know if there is cheating on these tests? Here is an ironclad way to find out: It is called a ‘Surprise Retest’. If the state is TRULY concerned, unannounced, return to the schools and administer the same tests to those same kids. You will know quickly if there was cheating.

But do you really want to know, Mississippi? From what I am told privately by teachers all over the country cheating is absolutely rampant in schools on these tests. Be realistic – what do you expect? You are putting peoples’ jobs and reputations on the line based on a single test score. Like we are creating 50% below average, we are creating cheaters, then acting righteous when they show up.

And the death knell: Unless you can uncover and eliminate every invalid test score all the rest of the test results are useless.

Willie Shakespeare, if he was around, might write a new hilarious version of his play based on our high-stakes testing frenzy: “Much Ado About Nothing.“

Please read “FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION” when it comes out next month.

Anthony Dallmann-Jones PhD
Differentiated Instruction for All Learners Program
Marian University – Fond du Lac WI

WAKE UP! Only the testing and scoring companies are gaining from the high-stakes testing game.

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