Time for a better trade-off on K-12 testing

Economist Thomas Sowell once noted that there are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.

“You try to get the best trade-off you can get; that’s all you can hope for.”

Decades after the launch of the systemized standardized testing in K-12 education, here is my reflection on whether we have the best trade-off available.

A few years ago, I was on my bike in Phoenix and came across a sign in front of a local middle school. I stopped my bike, stared at the sign for a good long while, and realized I was looking at something disturbing and deeply absurd. Two weeks of testing.

As a Gen Xer student, I took standardized tests – California Achievement Test, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, etc. They took little more than a few hours out of a single school day. My college admission exam took me a few hours on a Saturday morning to knock out. To this day, students go to testing centers with a couple of pencils (or do it on a computer) and in a few hours, take an exam that will influence which universities they can attend.

My comprehensive exams for a doctoral degree were three grueling days. But somehow, state “accountability” examinations disrupt school schedules for two weeks. Needless to say, prepping students for these tests consume a great deal more class time than simply the exam period. The time has come to ask: what is the added benefit of a two-week disruption compared to the three-hour long tests?

Research has established that people put greater stock in non-profit school evaluations than state-sponsored evaluations. People are wise to do so. The details of state evaluation systems are unavoidably political in nature. Researchers have also found people to be very interested in parental reviews of schools. Private platforms such as Niche.com and Greatschools.com collect reviews. State systems do not. The web traffic of private platforms also dwarfs that of any state department of education website.

American schools have big problems, and the accountability movement represented a well-intended effort to address those concerns. American schools spend at high levels

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