WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Council of the Great City Schools announced a joint project on student assessments. In response, the Alliance for Excellent Education issued the following statement:
In recent months the concern over the outsize role of testing in schools has reached a crescendo. In August, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged these concerns in his back-to-school message to teachers: “[I]n too many places, testing itself has become a distraction from the work it is meant to support,” he said. “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.”
The Alliance for Excellent Education believes that assessments are a critical educational tool to promote learning, transparency and equity. Teachers, parents, and policymakers all need regular data about student achievement to make important decisions about instruction and school resources. Unfortunately, many states and districts may have layered on tests without assessing whether they are high quality and yield useful information about student learning. In light of that, we applaud the leadership of states and districts that have committed to reviewing the full array of tests that they require students to take. States and districts should eliminate those tests that are duplicative or do not yield valuable information to school systems.
But those who call for a halt to all standardized testing, or a halt to the federal requirement that states administer end-of-year tests, go too far. The answer to too much testing is not no testing. Standardized tests, done well, can inform important educational decisions, and the federal government, with its role in ensuring equity and excellence, should continue to require states to administer tests. State tests allow teachers, parents, and policymakers to know whether schools are working and to make adjustments accordingly so that every child, regardless of zip code, receives an excellent education.
Because they are so important to getting education right, assessments should be given with due consideration and at a high level of quality. The Alliance believes that federal policy concerning state tests should include the following principles:
- Measuring what matters. State end-of-year tests should measure a broad range of knowledge and skills that reflect standards aligned to what all students should know and be able to do by the time they graduate high school in order to succeed in college, the workplace, and civic society. These tests should provide information on student attainment of deeper learning competencies, such as mastery of academic content and the ability to use knowledge to solve problems and think critically, communicate effectively, and collaborate with peers. When tests actually measure deeper knowledge and skills, they allow teachers to focus their instruction on them rather than on surface learning and test prep.
- Yielding actionable information. While teachers give tests to get a clear sense of how well students have mastered information and skills, state tests yield important information on school performance. They can help district leaders in evaluating program effectiveness and allocating resources to support teaching and learning. And, most importantly, they can help state officials identify schools that are low-performing or that have significant achievement gaps, and thus target resources to schools that need them.
- Ensuring equity. State assessment systems should ensure that all students in a state, regardless of where they live, are assessed according to the same standards. This allows parents and policymakers to compare results across school and district lines and to make decisions about where to focus effort and funding to help those schools and students falling behind. For states that use an end-of-year test that is used by other states, it further allows for comparisons across the states in ways that can further inform policy at the state and federal levels.
All states have made an important shift to expecting that all students will be prepared for success in college and careers. In implementing that shift, most states are moving to adopt assessments that are much higher quality and will provide richer and more accurate insights on student performance. At this moment of transition, it is most important not to abandon vital tools, but to push forward towards those better assessments, used in better ways.
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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.