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Thompson: Shouldn't We Have Choice in Testing?

SatPerhaps a new form of educational choice will drive the next era of school improvement. One would think that advocates for school choice would be consistent and support the rights of parents and students to choose whether to be subjected to standardized tests - or not. 

We should seriously contemplate William Hiss's Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions. Hiss studied 123,000 students at 33 institutions over eight years and he found there was virtually no difference in college grades and graduation rates between students who submitted SATs and ACTs or not.  He also explains, "Human intelligence is so multifaceted, so complex, so varied, that no standardized testing system can be expected to capture it."

NPR's Eric Westervelt, in College Applicants Sweat the SATs: Perhaps They Shouldn't, reports that "Some are calling this study a potential game-changer that may prompt schools to evaluate whether there is value in requiring standardized tests." Of course, he is reporting on colleges, not the bubble-in tests that are used to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable, and there is a difference between the two types of assessments. The difference is that the ACT and SAT tests are more reliable and defensible, and the younger the test taker, the greater the potential damage of the test.

So, if parents and students should be allowed to opt out of college admissions tests, shouldn't that choice be extended to all students? Of course, a study of college outcomes, alone, is not definitive proof that public school testing has failed. It just adds to the evidence that the data-driven reform movement was a historical dead end. Once we offer students headed to college the choice of whether they want to endure more of the testing rat race, the next logical step is to ask parents whether they want high-stakes testing dumped on their children. It leads to a common sense approach to school improvement; Let students and adults opt in or opt out of standardized testing.  And, if they give a test and nobody comes ..., reformers should honor that choice.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.    

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A comprehensive database of more than 800 colleges and universities that de-emphasize the ACT/SAT in the admissions process is available free online at: http://fairtest.org/university/optional

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