Problems with standardized tests go beyond their "high stakes" use. Standardized tests can also drive curriculum and instruction in ways that harm children. Teachers are subjected to increasing pressures to prepare students for the tests, even when we know that the tests don't assess the most essential aspects of thinking and learning. Students often internalize the judgements of the tests -- as if test scores were the final word on one's knowledge or potential.
In addition, standardized tests come packaged with demands for more standardized curriculum -- again, wrapped in the rhetoric of "standards." These calls do not take place in a political and cultural vacuum. They are part of a broader movement to promote a narrow version of patriotism and "family values," and to silence the critical voices of feminists, environmentalists, labor activists, and advocates of racial justice. It is also worth noting that when the right wing pushes voucher schools or charter schools, they often want these exempted from statewide high-stakes tests, so that the schools can be free to pursue their entrepreneurial "creativity."
Analysis into Action
We hope that this special issue can help turn analysis into action. An essential first step is to expose the fallacy that "high- stakes" tests will lead to higher standards and improved academic achievement. Some groups, for instance the Local School Councils Summit in Chicago, have worked with national groups such as FairTest to produce parent-friendly information explaining the inherent problems in standardized tests.
Another important task is to promote alternative forms of assessment and accountability. Parents and the public need to know how well their children and their schools are doing. Developing more democratic forms of assessment and accountability is essential to defeating calls for standardized curriculum and testing. Educators must not box ourselves into a corner where we are perceived as opposing any form of schoolwide, districtwide, or statewide assessment and accountability. Historically, social justice activists have used such aggregate data to show how schools fail to provide a quality education to all children -- to highlight schools' "savage inequalities."
"High-stakes" standardized tests must be resisted. Such resistance can, and is, taking many forms.