The Fundamental Problems With High Stakes Testing and What Parents Need to Know

Children in grades 3-8 will take standardized state tests that assess reading and math every year for six years and science in fourth and eighth grade. “President George W. Bush’s signing of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 ushered in the current era of high-stakes testing.” But what is the purpose of all this testing? You may remember taking a standardized test when you were younger. So what’s the big deal?

You may have taken a standardized test, but did you take this many tests when you were in grade school?  There are a few fundamental problems with this model of high stakes testing that you may not be aware of. One major problem is the financial toll that it takes on local school districts. In a year where there should be a surplus in New York for education, my hometown school district is cutting 13 positions in order to balance the budget. Did you know funding that should be spent supporting the education of our children is being diverted away to corporations that will make huge profits off this yearly testing? Previously there were two testing grades in NYS, fourth and eighth grade. Now instead of simply testing on these two grade levels we test in every grade from third to eighth. The cost of testing has increased significantly because we have tripled the amount of years that our children are assessed. Has the cost been justified?

Does all this testing improve the education of students?

“A 2012 study by the Brookings Institution determined that states spend $1.7 billion per year on testing, an enormous increase over the $423 million states spent in 2001 before NCLB, according to the Pew Center on the States. All of this money has fueled a booming testing industry, with companies like Pearson racking up billions in sales. A POLITICO investigation published on February 10, 2015 revealed that Pearson receives tens of millions in taxpayer dollars even though there is “little proof its products and services are effective.”

Wait a minute, did that last sentence say “little proof its products are effective”? Isn’t that the idea of these standardized tests, to hold our school districts accountable for the education of our children? This is another major fallacy with regards to high stakes testing. Standardized implies that we are comparing apples to apples each year. That is an assumption that no longer holds true. The data used to hold public schools “accountable” has been manipulated and falsified for a lot of different reasons.

“Just dismiss any thought of a meaningful, year-to-year comparison. The state’s ability to predetermine the percentages of students “passing” New York’s Regents Common Core exams (and to alter raw-score-to-cut score conversions) makes any comparisons of “gains” from one year to the next wholly artificial.”

“There are myriad ways that test scores can be manipulated to make a student or a school appear to be doing better than they actually are. For example, states have lowered the scores students need to pass, according to a 2009 report published in the International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership.”

“Furthermore, arguments assume that standardized tests are good proxies for student learning, which oftentimes is not the case. According to Stanford University professor of education Linda Darling-Hammond, “The tests we use, particularly the state standardized tests, are extremely narrow. Evidence shows that they measure almost exclusively low-level skills.” A 2012 study from the RAND Corporation backs this claim, finding that only three to 10 percent of elementary and middle school students in the United States were administered tests that assessed deeper learning skills. And even the low-level skills that the tests do measure can be impacted by how much sleep the student got the night before the test and whether the room where the student took the test was too hot or cold.”

When students are assessed on a narrow skill set the consequences are very serious. Schools feel obligated to prepare for standardized exams and deviate from the curriculum that they would normally be teaching. This is also problematic because there are a limited number of teaching hours available. One of the biggest complaints that you will hear from a teacher is that there is never enough time to cover all the material. It’s bad enough that the days spent testing are days that teachers stand around proctoring and not teaching, but the real travesty is that weeks before state testing begins teachers put aside their lessons, that are part of the scope and sequence, to familiarize students with the format of the test. This frustrates teachers because the testing interrupts the instruction of skills that children will need by the end of the school year and that need to be assessed in a meaningful way. Also, teachers and parents want to know the specific skills that their children need to improve, but the NYS test doesn’t give you the specific results . If your child has taken a NYS exam your were mailed a number grade, 1-4, but you don’t know what skills your child is deficient in. Can your child identify the main idea of a story? Are they good at inferencing? Can they identify the setting of a story? Do they have difficulty with vocabulary? You just won’t know from the feedback given by NYS, however the source of this valuable information is your child’s teacher. It’s ironic because education reformers will say that you need accountability from teachers. Meet with your child’s teacher, or take a look at your child’s report card. You will receive a wealth of information on your child, unlike the number grade that you receive from NYS.i

“the NYS test doesn’t give you the specific results…,

you don’t know what skills your child is deficient in.”

“Those who have analyzed the raw score to scaled score conversion charts provided by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), have raised concerns that NYSED may well have manipulated raw score to scale conversion numbers in order to increase proficiency rates.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The data is manipulated, but why is the data manipulated? That’s where the politics of education come in. Did you ever notice that before an election you will get conflicting view points as candidates vie for candidacy. One politician, will tell you that public schools are failing and they will remedy this situation once elected. The other politician will tell you about the incredible growth that has occurred under their tenure. Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo are both guilty of such practices.

“Standardized tests exist for administrative, political,

and financial purposes, not for educational ones.”

“Member of the New Paltz Board of Education, and strong critic of state testing and Common Core curriculum, Michael O’Donnell, has analyzed this data closely and has reported to his district that if the scores associated with proficiency had not been lowered, students throughout the state would, in fact, show a decrease in performance on the Common Core based ELA and State Math exams over the past few years.

In completing his analysis of the state testing in New York, Michael O’Donnell, stated, “Assessment proficiency rates, in addition to not being reflective of college readiness or grade-level skills, are now not comparable to previous years’ results and have been subject to aggressive manipulation. It is hard to find any utility in these data.”

“Evidence grows we are entering a new era of mass delusion and test score inflation- including cut score manipulation”

We are exhausting scarce resources in this absurd age of over testing. Is it really necessary? Don’t we already know the results before we receive them? Try this for yourself. I will name four school districts in Westchester County. Can you figure out the ones that have a proficiency rate on the 2017 ELA of over 70% and the ones that have a proficiency rate under 30%? The four districts are Port Chester, Bronxville, Ossening and Scarsdale. If you aren’t sure you can google the result.  If you are familiar with this area, then you instinctively knew the answer.  Did we really need to spend an obscene amount of taxpayer revenue to come to this conclusion?

”we are entering a new era of mass delusion…

Don’t we already know the results before we receive them?“

“One thing it seems standardized tests are exceptionally good at measuring is socioeconomic status.

The predictability of standardized tests are influenced more by the education and income level of a student’s parents than by a particular teacher. If our country owned up to this fact, then we could move forward with real solutions rather than blaming public education.

It is time to acknowledge that putting an enormous amount of weight on standardized test scores does not work, and to move on to other solutions.”

Here are some problems with high stakes testing in New York:

1) They siphon necessary funding away from our local school districts

2) The results/data are manipulated thus invalidating their intended purpose

3) They narrow the curriculum because teachers are forced to spend time on test prep

4) They assess low level skills that don’t necessarily reflect the curriculum

5) They shorten the school year depleting valuable instructional time

6) The questions are often convoluted and not developmentally appropriate

7) The reading passages used are often three to four grade levels above the grade level being tested

8) There is a possibility that your child may sit with a test for the entire day.

9) Standardized tests exist for administrative, political, and financial purposes, not for educational ones.  Test companies make billions.  Politicians get elected by promising better test results.

I wrote this article with the hopes that you will understand this issue better. I truly hope that you will act upon this information. People have asked me what I get out of this activism. Occasionally I even have to explain that I’m a private citizen and that I don’t profit from this in any way, however, there are many corporations that will profit heavily from the false narrative that public education is failing in our country. Don’t believe it. Question who is spreading this fabrication and their motivation, financial or political, for this deceitful message.

”the false narrative that public education is failing in our country.”

When you see media that claims public education is failing question the source. A quick google search often identifies special interests that stand to benefit from the false narrative that public schools are failing based on standardized test scores. You are deceived when you don’t know the connection to the source. If they have ties to Bill and Melinda Gates (who were largely responsible for the hasty, disastrous and unproven implementation of the common core), educational technology companies, private/charter schools, or standardized testing publishers, then you can be assured that they stand to profit from public funds that would be better utilized by your school district.  Also try to find out if they donated money to political campaigns.

What does Bill Gates have to do with all of this? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

Yes, it is true that Bill Gates is the second richest person in our country right now, but does that qualify him to be an expert in education? While technological products are being pushed into public schools the opposite is happening for children whose parents work in this industry. Low-tech parenting has been a quiet staple among Silicon Valley moguls for years.

It was very difficult for my wife and I to opt our children out of the NYS standardized testing for the first time when my oldest daughter was in fourth grade. We were the type of people that followed the rules. We were uncomfortable practicing civil disobedience. I think you should know that both of my daughters are on the high honor roll.  We don’t opt out because we feel these exams will be difficult for our daughters.  We opt out because standardized testing is a farce.  Now we feel, as a family, that it is our duty to protest these exams. Haven’t we been bamboozled long enough? The goals of standardized testing as outlined by our government does not meriting the cost. Our children deserve better. Please join this revolution and say no to standardized testing. Real change will come only if enough people opt their children out of these problematic exams.  Opting out is powerful.  It is the most effective strategy that ordinary citizens have used that has resulted in change.


The Case Against Standardized Testing – The Harvard Political Review

Will New York State Flunk Most of the Class of 2022? – Huffington Post

Did NYSED Manipulate Test Scores to Boost Proficiency? –

Evidence grows we are entering a new era of mass delusion and test score inflation- including cut score manipulation – New York City Public School Parents

How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution – The Washington Post

15 Reasons Why Standardized Tests are Worthless – American Institute for Learning and Human Development


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