Diane Ravitch Urges Boycott of Standardized Tests, Saying They Do Nothing for Kids But Make Testing Companies Rich

I am very glad that I attended public school during a time when we seldom, if ever, took a standardized test. On the rare occasion when we did, there were no consequences attached to our test scores. Our teachers saw our scores, but we did not. She or he learned something about how we were progressing or not. There was no time devoted to test prep, because the tests didn't matter. Practicing for a test would have been like "practicing" for a visit with the doctor. It makes no sense.

Today, standardized testing has become so ubiquitous that students in public schools are tested every year from grades 3 through 8, a reminder of the No Child Left Behind law, which left many children behind. For some reason, the policymakers in D.C. thought they knew more than professional educators about how to improve education. Test every child every year. Threaten teachers and principals with stiff penalties, including being fired or having their school closed. If scores went up, and sometimes they did, it didn't mean that children were better educated. It may have meant that they were worse educated because their school sacrificed the arts, history, civics, and other activities for the sake of prepping for the all-important tests.

Nevertheless, state leaders became persuaded that tests were good; the more tests the better. Most states are now giving tests that their own legislators would not be able to pass. There ought to be a law that no legislator may impose any test that he or she can't pass. If they took the tests and released their own scores, the testing mania would disappear.

Since that won't happen, the next best thing is civil disobedience. Opt out. Don't let your child take the tests. This a legitimate way of expressing your voice, which is otherwise ignored.

The single most important thing you need to know about the state tests is that they are utterly useless and without any value. The results come back in the summer or fall, when the student has a different teacher. Neither students nor teachers are allowed to discuss the questions on the test, so no one learns anything from them. Teachers are not given a diagnostic report for each student, just rankings. Why do you need to know that your child is a 38 or 48 or 68? How does that help her? What information can you glean from a ranking? None.

Testing today is like visiting the doctor for a regular check-up and learning that your results will be ready in four months, not next week. When the results come in, you are told you are a 12 on a scale of 15. You anxiously ask the doctor, what does that mean? He says, "I am not allowed to tell you." He gives you a few other numbers to show how you rate as compared to others of your height and weight, but he prescribes nothing because he is not able to learn anything from the scores and ratings.

A genuinely diagnostic test would be one where students and teachers could discuss the questions and answers. They would learn what the student got right and wrong. They would discuss whether the "right answer" was reasonable. If the student could make a better case for his answer, then his score could be changed. The teacher would learn where the students needed extra help. The teacher would learn which topics she had not given enough attention to.

But that is not the way standardized testing works today. Their contents are copyrighted. The testing corporations fiercely protect the secrecy of their questions and answers.

Their defenders think that the tests produce something that teachers need to know. They are not. They are producing numerical ratings and rankings that have no value. They are generating profits for the testing companies.

They are useless.

The best way to get this point across to the policymakers in your state and in Washington, D.C., is to refuse the tests. Do not take them. Send a message. This is the only way you can liberate your children from tests that have no value and that steal time from instruction and play. Defend your child. Defend the joy of learning.

Opt out.

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