Why our current obsession with high-stakes testing is wrong

“We have seen how an increasingly test-obsessed public has led our school systems to narrow their curricula, diminishing attention to many of our important public education goals to devote inordinate attention to test preparation,” Domenech writes.

“Learning Leadership” column, June 2013 edition of eSchool News—The members of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, are committed to guaranteeing to every American child a public education that develops his or her achievement in each of the areas that traditionally have been goals of American schools. First and foremost, our schools should promote good citizenship, including the habit and practice of participation in civic life by voting—as well as by contributing to community well-being in voluntary association with fellow citizens.

High achievement includes the organizational and collaborative skills needed to participate effectively in our democracy and practice in the nonviolent resolution of conflict. It depends on familiarity with public issues, a commitment to address them with reason and from consideration of evidence, and the ability to learn from our community’s, nation’s, and world’s historical experience. It includes commitment to our shared public values, such as equal opportunity, respect for others, fairness, compassion, and Americans’ guaranteed constitutional rights.

Productivity is another goal. This includes the ability to contribute to one’s own and to the community’s economic well-being. High achievement includes the ability to think creatively and work collaboratively from a foundation of academic mastery. It includes the appropriate use of technology, as well as self-discipline, responsibility, punctuality, and other work habits appropriate to occupational success.

We also focus on academic accomplishment in the language arts—including literacy and oral and written communication skills—as well as mathematics, the sciences, history, literature, and foreign languages. Academic accomplishment includes content knowledge along with reasoning and independent critical thinking. Creativity and appreciation of the arts, music, and literature are also goals, as is the knowledge of and commitment to the habits of good mental and physical fitness and health.

In recent years, a national obsession with test scores has distracted us from the work we must do in each of these areas to improve standards, design curriculum, train teachers to deliver it, and assess the extent to which students have performed. AASA will participate in, indeed we will help lead, national efforts to refocus on this priority. As school administrators, we believe deeply in the power of good schools to develop our youth’s high performance. But we also understand that schools cannot develop this high performance without support from the society outside our schools.

(Next page: What too few Americans realize about U.S. public education)

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