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Testing, Testing. Testing, 1-2-3...

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Message Joe Maness

High stakes testing: is there a better way? Of course there is!
High stakes testing: is there a better way? Of course there is!
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by Joe Maness and Richard Kerry Holtzin, Ph.D.


The title of this article makes it seem like we are against some sort of standardized test to assess student learning. Au contraire; we actually believe in tests that are standardized, as long as it is done right and for the right reasons. Which is to say, that it truly assesses student learning and growth, is not ongoing, and is not used to bash teachers. By ongoing, we mean ad infinitum.

We propose an alternative means of evaluating students. Our thesis comes down to this salient point: Standardized testing in of itself is not the boogeyman of education we rail against; using for-profit standardized testing to beat up on teachers, including holding teachers accountable for poverty, is the boogeyman of education.

To be perfectly clear, we endorse standardized testing, as long as its principles are done correctly (why does it just HAVE to be for-profit?). We feel that testing is not being done correctly in American schools, and that the tests themselves are not an accurate reflection of student learning. We do know, however, how to fix it. It just so happens there is one particular standardized test that is being done correctly; i.e., tests that we feel are a better, more accurate assessment of student learning. We therefore advocate using this particular standardized test over all other for-profit standardized tests. Listed below are some of the reasons why we stand by this particular test.

Standardized Test Requirements

The ideal standardized test that we have in mind contains the following features (this list is by all means not inclusive):

  • A student that scores above a certain level on these tests is universally considered by all employers on planet Earth to be a high school graduate
  • The test assesses both technical and communication skills
    • The tests identifies what S.T.E.M.-related vocation a student might be good at; e.g., general science, mechanical comprehension, electronics information, etc.
    • The tests also covers non-S.T.E.M.-related topics such as word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, etc.
  • The tests consists of over 200 questions total
  • The tests can be taken old school (that is, on paper) or on a computer
  • The computerized version of the tests are adaptive:
    • "the exam seems to tailor itself to their level of ability. For example, if an examinee performs well on an item of intermediate difficulty, they will then be presented with a more difficult question. Or, if they performed poorly, they would be presented with a simpler question." -- Wikipedia
  • The tests are created by Americans for Americans
  • Professional educators create and update the tests
  • The tests have been around for many decades, always improving its credibility and accuracy
  • These tests are not designed to be used to beat up on teachers and to hold them accountable for things that are beyond their control
  • The tests are already paid for by the US taxpayers, so schools would not have to budget for them

We believe that the last bullet item is probably the best one. We currently are giving money to big for-profit companies to create a mediocre test when there already exists a world-class test that all schools can access virtually free. Less money spent on testing equals more money spent on teachers, EAs, textbooks, computer labs, etc. We believe that this particular battery of tests to be the best in the world at identifying a student's strengths and weaknesses, as well as identifying who can claim high school graduate status and who cannot. Yes, the tests are really that good. And yes, these test are, and always has been, universally accepted as being that good for many decades!

We would even go so far as to very forcefully advocate using these tests as a sort of National High School Exit Exam (NHSEE), and even as a replacement to the G.E.D. That's how much we absolutely endorse these tests. That's how valid we think they are.

Q & A

Meanwhile, questions abound (warning: snark ahead):

  • How is the for-profit testing industry supposed to make money without legislatively-mandated standardized testing?
  • Wouldn't it be more cost effective to give money to the for-profit testing industry anyway? That way they would be obligated to the shareholders rather than to the students. Oh wait...
  • How are we supposed to hold teachers accountable? It's not like they are professionals that can more accurately gauge a student's ability and growth by actually being there in the classroom day after day, week after week, month after month, sometimes year after year, etc.
  • Why would we ever use tests that have already been paid for? That would be like accomplishing the same thing, only of better quality and cheaper. How can any good come out of something like that?

Our (serious) answer to all of that: What, do we as a society not want to truly gauge a student's aptitude with world-recognized world-class tests that are already paid for? Why not? Because it doesn't bash teachers? Because it doesn't enrich education-reform know-nothings? Because it doesn't test the student's ability to successfully run a rat maze? Please. Our point is that these for-profit standardized tests are not only expensive, they do not realistically and accurately assess whether a student is ready to enter the real world.

Don't believe this? What follows might be more convincing.


Common Core is a national set of standards that theoretically provides for commonality of student learning (BTW, we don't have a beef with Common Core per se since we too believe in commonality. We instead have a beef with the Common Core tests). Are the tests that are based on these standards an accurate reflection of a student's readiness to face the real world? If so, then every adult who is a high school graduate should at minimum be able to score a perfect 100% on any standardized 8th-grade exam (which, of course, is pre-high school). If not, then we have a extremely serious problem on our hands, no? Let's try a math test.

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Joe Maness is a High School Mathematics Teacher. He is writing a S.T.E.M. Lab textbook along with Dr. Holtzin.

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