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Tests: Too Many Tough Tests -- Or Too Few?

Post_full_127474113107_EducationMicrolending I asked FairTest's Bob Schaeffer what percentage of tests he thought qualified as high stakes in the sense that they directly affected students' or teachers' lives.  My guess was 10 percent.  He came up with an interesting back of the envelope calculation of 30-50 percent (see below).  It's an interesting rundown, though I think that overstates the case by quite a lot.  For me, the problem isn't that there are too many high stakes tests but rather that there are too many low-quality / low rigor tests that are too easy for most kids and schools to pass, and then too little done for the relatively few kids and schools that can't pass muster.  Many if not most tests are not high stakes in the way people might think. 

"In the 50% of states which have exit exams, passing the 10th grade test is a near-absolute gatekeeper for access to a regular high school diploma In Florida, Texas, etc. tests are also used for promotion/retention decisions, typically in 3rd grade (need to check with Jack Jennings or ECS to see how many states now have such policies). Not sure of the source, but I have heard it said repeatedly that, for a young child, fear or being held back is only slightly less terrifying than fear of a parent's death. For schools that have not made Adequate Yearly Progress for several years, continued low test scores can lead to "reconstitution," including the termination of teachers and administrators. The psychological pressure to avoid your place of employment being labeled "failing" also has a "real effect" on educators, according to many we have spoken with. That appears to have been the dynamic in most of the cases the Times covered. For an excellent case study of the way tests dominate a school's life, read Linda Perlstein's book Tested. Bet that the overall percentage impacted is much more than 10%, probably in the 30% to 50% range of students/teachers/schools (predominantly low-income and minority)."


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There's research on both sides of the student retention debate. On the one hand, do you keep passing the kid until (alarm sounds) s/he's in high school and can't read? Or do you retain the kid until s/he's too big for the little kid chairs? One of the aspects of student retention that gets missed is "good cause" exceptions. Even in Florida, a third grader (who by the way only has to pass reading FCAT, not math) can be promoted for "good cause." In practice, this can mean a parent request; age; other data like grades or DIBELS; or just about anything. After 3rd grade, in Florida, the next "must-pass" event is 10th grade. That's quite a long time for a kid who can't read to be passed forward...and the pass rate for kids who fail the 10th grade FCAT (they get multiple retake opportunities) is painfully low. No great answers other than good instruction and good remediation.

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