High-Stakes Teaching

Pro: By Samantha Lopez

High stakes testing – the practice of placing major emphasis on standardized test scores in decisions aecting students, teachers, administrators, and schools – is one of the most highly debated issues in education. Some say the tests do more harm than good because they put too much emphasis on scores instead of other measures of student learning, forcing teachers to “teach to the test.” However, they provide a valuable way of directly comparing student performance through a single standard of evaluation. Although everything students learn during the school year cannot be assessed in one test, if there are truly good teachers in classrooms, high test scores will come as a byproduct of good all-around instruction.

It is not a perfect system, and there are problems with what certain tests actually measure. Standardized testing, however, is still the only feasible way to quickly and objectively compare achievement across classrooms and schools. This helps identify areas of success and weakness and allows for the isolation of individual classrooms where problem areas exist.

Standardized tests can also play an important role in the reform of teacher evaluations. A recent study conducted by Harvard and Columbia concluded that test scores are a good way to measure teacher quality and that teachers who raise scores improve students’ long-term prospects, including lifetime earnings. In combination with other forms of evaluation, test scores can provide a valuable first insight into which teachers and schools can be looked to as models of success – and which need immediate attention and reform.

Con: By Irene Izaguirre-Lopez

Public school students in grades three through eight will spend approximately six hours per year taking standardized tests. At this rate, the average 13-year-old will have spent sixty hours taking standardized tests. At first glance, this number may seem low, and maybe even manageable. However, one must remember the untold hours that are spent on test preparation, both in the classroom and at home. Sixty hours over the course of five years is actually a gross underestimation. Proponents of standardized testing state that the tests provide educators and policymakers with objective measures of student achievement and learning, which are highly correlated to teacher eectiveness and overall school quality. Standardized tests, however, only measure a student’s performance at a particular point in time and by no means adequately demonstrate a year’s worth of learning, nor can they assess critical skills and traits like creativity, motivation, curiosity, or critical thinking.

It is important to differentiate between standardized tests and high-stakes testing. While most standardized tests are high stakes, high-stakes testing implies that negative consequences will ensue if results are less than proficient. Because of the shortcoming of standardized tests in measuring real achievement, the link between tests and harsh consequences needs to be reevaluated.

Although the history of standardized testing in the United States is long and ingrained, educators, policymakers, parents, and students can still come together and devise new measures of student achievement that encompass true learning.