High Stakes Testing: Overtesting in America's Public Schools

overtesting in public schools

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Over the past several years, many parents and students have begun to launch movements against overtesting and the high stakes testing movement. They have begun to realize that their children are being stripped of an authentic educational experience that instead hinges on how they perform on a series of test over a period of a few days. Many states have passed laws that tie student test performance to grade promotion, the ability to obtain a driver’s license, and even the earning of a diploma. This has created a culture of tension and anxiety among administrators, teachers, parents, and students.

High Stakes and Standardized Testing

I spend quite a bit of my time thinking about and researching the topics of high stakes and standardized testing. I have written several articles on those subjects. This includes one where I consider my philosophical shift from not worrying about my student’s standardized test scores to deciding that I need to play the high stakes testing game and focus on preparing my students for their standardized tests.

Since I made that philosophical shift, my students perform significantly better when compared to my students before I shifted my focus to teaching towards the test. In fact over the last several years I have had a near perfect proficiency rate for all of my students. While I am proud of this fact, it is also extremely disheartening because it has come at a cost.

This has created a continuous internal battle. I no longer feel like my classes are fun and creative. I do not feel as if I can take the time to explore the teachable moments that I would have jumped on a few years ago. Time is at a premium, and nearly everything I do is with the one singular goal of preparing my students for testing. The focus of my instruction has been narrowed to the point that I feel as if I am trapped.

I know that I am not alone. Most teachers are fed up with the current overtesting, high stakes culture. This has led many excellent, effective teachers to retire early or to leave the field to pursue another career path. Many of the remaining teachers have made the same philosophical shift I chose to make because they love working with kids. They sacrifice conforming to something which they do not believe in to keep doing the job they love. Few administrators or teachers see the high stakes testing era as something positive.

Many opponents would argue that a single test on a single day is not indicative of what a child truly has learned over the course of a year. Proponents say that it holds school districts, administrators, teachers, students, and parents accountable. Both groups are right to some extent. The best solution to standardized testing would be a middle ground approach. Instead, the Common Core State Standard era has in some degree ushered in increased pressure and continued over-emphasis on standardized testing.

Common Core States Standards

The Common Core States Standards (CCSS) have had a significant impact on ensuring this culture is here to stay. Forty-two states currently utilize the Common Core State Standards. These states utilize a shared set of English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics educational standards. However, the controversial Common Core has lost some of its luster due in part to several states parting ways with them after initially planning to adopt them, Even still there is rigorous testing intended to assess student understanding of the Common Core State Standards.

There are two consortiums charged with building these assessments: Partnership for Assessment and Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) & SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Originally, PARCC assessments were given to students over the course of 8-9 testing sessions in grades 3-8. That number has since been reduced to 6-7 testing sessions, which still seems excessive.

The driving force behind the high stakes testing movement is two fold. It is both politically and financially motivated. These motivations are interlocked. The testing industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Testing companies win political support by pumping thousands of dollars into political lobbying campaigns to ensure that candidates who support testing are voted into office.

The political world essentially holds school districts hostage by tying both federal and state money to standardized tests performance. This, in large part, is why district administrators put pressure on their teachers to do more to increase test performance. It is also why many teachers bow to the pressure and teach directly to the test. Their job is tied to the funding and their family understandably trumps their internal convictions.

Overtesting Era

The overtesting era is still strong, but hope arises for opponents of high stakes testing. Educators, parents, and students are beginning to awaken to the fact that something needs to be done to reduce the amount of and overemphasis of standardized testing in America’s public schools. This movement has gained much steam within the past few years as many states have suddenly reduced the amount of testing they required and repealed legislation that tied test scores to areas such as teacher evaluations and student promotion.

Even still there is more work do be done. Many parents have continued to lead an opt-out movement in the hope that it will eventually rid or drastically reduce the public school standardized testing requirements. There are several websites and Facebook pages dedicated to this movement. 

Educators like me appreciate the parental support on this issue. As I mentioned above, many teachers feel trapped. We either quit what we love to do or conform to how we are mandated to teach. This does not mean that we cannot voice our displeasure when given the opportunity. For those who believe that there is too much emphasis placed on standardized testing and that students are being overtested, I encourage you to figure out a way to make your voice heard. It may not make a difference today, but eventually, it could be loud enough to put an end to this insatiable practice.

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Your Citation
Meador, Derrick. "High Stakes Testing: Overtesting in America's Public Schools." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/high-stakes-testing-overtesting-in-americas-public-schools-3194591. Meador, Derrick. (2020, August 26). High Stakes Testing: Overtesting in America's Public Schools. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/high-stakes-testing-overtesting-in-americas-public-schools-3194591 Meador, Derrick. "High Stakes Testing: Overtesting in America's Public Schools." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/high-stakes-testing-overtesting-in-americas-public-schools-3194591 (accessed May 30, 2023).