Bipartisan Bill Re-Examines Overuse of Standardized Tests

Since the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, which requires students to take state-administered standardized tests in math and reading/language arts in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 in addition to once per the grade spans 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12, students, teachers, and schools have become unnecessarily overburdened by the growth of standardized testing. A new bi-partisan bill introduced by Representative Gibson (R-NY) and Representative Sinema (D-AZ), the Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R.4172), revises NCLB to end this mandatory over-testing and return to standardized tests offered once per grade span.

The over-testing that resulted from NCLB has a number of significant negative effects on children and their schools. For example, test taking and test prep take up a large amount of time that could be otherwise spent on instruction. One study found that students spent between 19 school days and a month and a half of school days on test prep and testing in the heavily tested grades. This is a substantial loss of classroom learning time that contributes to another negative result of over-emphasis of standardized tests: reduced content knowledge and narrowed curriculum that excludes subjects that are not tested such as foreign languages and the arts. When students spend this much time every year preparing for and taking tests, they have less time to learn and understand everything else they’re supposed to learn in school. In addition to the time diverted to test prep and test taking, standardized tests in every grade year also cost states about $1.7 billion per year, which could be better spent on student supports, tests that better measure student knowledge and critical thinking, or improving instruction.

These tests are also increasing student stress. This is a topic that is gaining increased attention in the early childhood field, with particular concern about toxic stress and the effect it has on brain development. Stress affects students throughout their childhood, and standardized tests are undermining the ability of schools to serve as an environment that promotes growth and development by exposing students to healthy amounts of stress, not the prolonged anxiety that harms child development. This is particularly problematic for students who live in poverty and often face increased levels of stress at home and depend on school to provide a stable, lower stress environment.

Annual standardized tests are an unnecessary burden as well; no other country tests their students every year, and most wait until age 16 to conduct the standardized tests that begin here in grade 3 or earlier. These tests are not productive like classroom tests. Students often only see their scores are unable to learn from re-examining the questions they got wrong, and the results are often reported after the school year is over so teachers can’t improve instruction based on how students perform on the tests. And standardized test scores are not a good indicator of how well a student will perform in college; grade point average (GPA) is the best predictor of college performance.

Indeed, the best predictor of how well a student will do on a standardized test is their family’s socioeconomic status. Yet these standardized tests are used to measure how well teachers are doing, including teachers who don’t teach a subject that is tested (sometimes custodial staff and teachers whose students take no tests at all are also evaluated using student test scores), and too many schools have been closed on account of these misleading test scores. One test per grade span will still give teachers the ability to improve practice while returning to a testing schedule that does not subject students to the negative effects of standardized tests every year.

Students, parents, and teachers have begun to understand these negative effects and have begun to “opt-out” of standardized tests across the country. H.R.4172 is a common sense step in the right direction for students across the country. By amending NCLB so states are required to offer a standardized test only once every grade span (grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12), it returns to research-based practice that was in place before the 2001 passage of NCLB. It is also a significant step toward federal education policy that puts children first.


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