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High Stakes Testing No. 158

Adopted 2001
Amended 2003
Amended 2005
Revised 2006

Conservative groups increasingly press to privatize schools in the name of reform. Obvious efforts include support for charter schools and vouchers, tuition credits, and tax deductions. Proponents point to low-performing schools as evidence of the need for higher standards and increased accountability.

High stakes testing has emerged as a substitute for constructive steps to encourage school excellence. One of the central tenets of Bush's 2001 "No Child Left Behind" Act was Congressional reauthorization of ESEA mandating annual testing from grades 3-8 with penalties for schools whose students fail to achieve at identified benchmarks.

While ADA endorses the call for higher standards, we do not believe that testing is, in fact, the road to excellence. Tests are useful diagnostic and prescriptive purposes. However, multiple assessments of students' performance most accurately measure student progress. Teaching to the test has become the function of too many teachers in too many schools, thus taking time away from real education. It also deprives students of the opportunity to encounter the full scope of the subject being studied. Simultaneously, we question the use of a single measure of a student, staff and school performance. ADA supports separate and appropriate testing for diagnosed special needs children.

In addition, we believe that higher standards must be accompanied by adequate funding, expanded professional development for teachers, significantly higher teacher salaries, and the effective use of tests. We oppose:

  1. Published report cards of test results - which measure where schools are without comparable data identifying how far they've progressed - as the sole criterion of school performance;
  2. Pressure for scripted, mechanical teaching to the test at the expense of the creative and innovative delivery of the curriculum;
  3. The failure to disaggregate data, and to use it for diagnostic and prescriptive purposes;
  4. The all too frequent break down of scoring mechanisms with the negative impact of these scoring errors on students and schools;
  5. The concentration of mandated tests in certain grade levels holding specific teachers accountable, exacerbating problems of teacher recruitment and retention in these grades;
  6. Cheating by administrators, teachers, and students occasioned by the pressure to achieve;
  7. The reluctance to use a single standard - such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress - in the unfortunate event that testing becomes law.
  8. The inclusion of English Language Learners (ELL) in standardized testing before they reach English proficiency.
  9. The elimination of arts, music, foreign language, honors, sports, and other activities solely for the purpose of devoting resources towards subjects on mandated testing.


High stakes testing creates another multi-million dollar industry depleting funds that could be better deployed creating and sustaining learning communities that promote high academic outcomes.

Reflecting the broad opposition to the ineffective and unfounded requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, many states have passed legislation freeing them from the onerous act. This revolt has been led by Republican-dominated Utah, demonstrating that the opposition is not a partisan issue.

We support multiple measures of student progress accompanied by the resources to ensure that students meet these standards.

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No. 158
Social and Domestic Policy Commission