High Stakes Testing: The Consequences


There is the narrowing of focus to math and reading and less focus on history, social studies, the arts, foreign languages, writing, physical education, or developing research and critical thinking skills.

The emphasis on test scores precludes looking more carefully at the cause of low test scores which include poverty, health and family issues as well as the effect of the economic downturn on children and their families.

Teachers who consider themselves professionals will begin to drop out of public schools. These individuals who have invested time and money on preparing for a career in a public school system will no longer have a sense of challenge as they go about reviewing standardized curriculum with every child being on the same page in the same book in all parts of the country at the same time with no opportunity to respond to students as individuals.  There is also the matter of being evaluated publicly with a career hanging on whether your students test well but with no control over the students circumstances at the time that they take the test.

Many teachers will choose not to work in lower income schools with struggling students or teach subjects that are part of a Value Added Measure (VAM) evaluation system.

Teachers will be evaluated not on how they are as educators but how well they can teach to a test. The students in turn will be judged on how well they can take a test on only two subjects, math and English.

A teacher’s evaluation is based on student test scores in states such as Tennessee that receive Race to the Top funding. For the teachers in Tennessee who do not teach math or English, their evaluation can be based on the school’s writing scores. 15% of those teachers can choose the subject that they want their evaluation based on.

Taking multiple-choice questions does not prepare a student for college where the emphasis is on critical thinking, creative thought, questioning, research and expressing one’s idea clearly through writing, debate and discussion.

Financially, high stakes testing is unsustainable. In one year the Seattle Public School district paid approximately $10 million to have the MAP test developed and implemented in all of its schools. This year Seattle Public Schools is in a $17M deficit.

The knowledge of history, the arts and the world that we live in is lost with the emphasis on reading, writing and math. The only students who will be able to understand what has occurred in history and learn from it will be students in private schools, some progressive alternative schools and universities that a decreasing number of students can afford.

Also, the scores from year to year can vary. In New York City, where a school is “graded based on test scores, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, describes the variation in one year of test scores:

“As Inside Schools reported, 24 out of the 102 schools that received “D”s or “F”s this year had received top grades of “A” or “B” the year before. Other high-performing schools, such as PS 234 in Tribeca that received an “A” last year, fell precipitously to a “C” with the same principal, same staff and most of the same students.  The school plunged from the 81st to the 4th percentile, which would have meant a “D,” if not for the DOE rule that no school that performs in the top third citywide can receive a grade lower than C, as Michael Markowitz pointed out in a comment on GothamSchools.”

An example: The Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test

The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP®) test, is used to measure of a student’s yearly progress. The results of this test can be used in teacher evaluations.  Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the company that developed the test, has publicly stated the MAP test was not designed to evaluate a teacher’s performance.

The Seattle Public School district administers the MAP test to students from Kindergarten through 9th grade.

As Sue Peters wrote on the Seattle Education blog:

In Seattle, the initial subscription to the test cost $370,000. SPS has spent much more since that in implementation costs. A portion of a $7.2 million Gates Foundation grant to Seattle Public Schools in 2009 went toward MAP®. Another $4.3 million of the February 2010 school levy was also earmarked for MAP®. Some believe that a proposed $2 million network capacity upgrade that was approved by the school board is also associated with the test. By some measures, MAP® has cost SPS as much as $10 million in the first year of its implementation.

The yearly subscription/licensing cost for MAP® has been estimated by the school district to be $500,000 per year.

In terms of time, some schools have reported spending as much as nine weeks to three months of the year administering, analyzing and interpreting the MAP® test for thousands of students.

The test is administered three times each school year. The third MAP test is optional and based on the request of the parent or guardian. There is a separate state test, the Measurement of Student Progress exam (MSP), which is given once a year. A student in Seattle will take at least three standardized tests each year and possibly four.

Because the test is given using a computer, the libraries are used for testing and at those times, no one can use the library. It takes one to three weeks to administer the MAP test each time to an entire school depending on the number of students in the school. The librarian is usually a proctor with teachers and parent volunteers assisting.

This means the library, which for 40% of schools in Seattle is where the computers are located, is closed to students for four weeks to three months each school year. Schools that have computer labs many times will still use the computers in the library to accommodate as many students as possible during the weeks of testing.

There is the time and money it takes to interpret the test results by teachers and administrators who are required to be trained in understanding the data. A significant amount of time is spent out of the classroom by the students. Moreover, students cannot use the library while the test is being administered.

The following are anecdotal stories that parents, teachers and students have shared with me about their experiences and observations regarding the MAP test.

First is a funny story about how the younger students like the animal sounds that one of the answers gives if the student presses a particular button. Because of the joy the students have when pushing that button, that is what they do as much as they can through the testing regimen.  Therefore, many school districts do not give the MAP test to students in grades K through 2.  It’s not appropriate and the results are unreliable. Unfortunately, the Seattle school district opted to test these children anyway.

The test, by the way, is also inappropriate for English language learners.

Bright students feel a sense of failure, and exhaustion, after completing the test.  As questions are answered, the difficulty of the questions increases and stops at the point when the student can no longer successfully answer the questions.  This test is called an “adaptive test”. For someone who is usually confident about their knowledge in particular subjects, it is dispiriting and there is a sense of failure and psychological exhaustion after completing adaptive tests. This was shared with me by students who I work with in after school programs.

Often, students do not take these tests seriously and will either quickly go through the questions just to finish the test or opt for incorrect answers knowing the questions will become easier and the test faster to complete.

The MAP test is not based on the information that is being provided in the classroom, nor does it correlate with the Seattle Public Schools’ curriculum requirements. This has confused many parents who think that their students understand the material presented in class and then score in the lower percentiles in math and/or English. Many times the teacher is blamed but it’s not the teacher who is at fault. The material may not have been covered at that time or will not be covered at all during that semester. Also, the students, parents and teachers will never know what the questions were on the test to find out what the student knows or doesn’t know specifically. The questions are not provided after the test is completed.

Next, Part 5: High Stakes Testing and Opting Out: The Push Back.

Dora Taylor