Monday, December 12, 2011

Against National Tests - Stephen Krashen

Against National Standards and National Tests
Stephen Krashen
to appear on:, Thoughts on Public Education in California
December, 2011

The movement for national standards and tests is based on these claims: (1)  Our educational system is broken, as revealed by US students' scores on international tests; (2) We must improve education to improve the economy; (3) The way to improve education is to have national standards and national tests that enforce the standards. 
Each of these claims is false. 

(1) Our schools are not broken. The problem is poverty. Test scores of students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools are among the best in world. Our mediocre overall scores are due to the fact that the US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries (now over 21%, compared to high-scoring Finland’s 5%). Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these negatively impact school performance. 

(2) Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves children's educational outcomes. Yes, a better education can lead to a better job, but only if jobs exist. 

(3) There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past.
No educator is opposed to assessments that help students to improve their learning. The amount of testing proposed by the US Department of Education in connection to national standards, far more than the already excessive amount demanded by NCLB, however, is excessive and will not help learning. 

In addition, the cost of implementing standards and electronically delivered national tests will be enormous, bleeding money from legitimate and valuable school activities. New York City is budgeting a half a billion dollars just to connect children to the internet, so that they can take the national tests. This extrapolates to about $25 billion nationally. 

This money could be spent to protect children from the effects of poverty, i.e. on expanded and improved breakfast and lunch programs, school nurses (at present there are more school nurses per child in low poverty schools than in high poverty schools) and improved school and public libraries, especially in high-poverty areas.

Some sources: 
“Test scores of students from middle class homes ...:  Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Berliner, D.  The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. In press.

“Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books”: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.;   Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership  55(4): 18-22.

Improving the economy ....:  Baker, K. 2007. Are international tests worth anything? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 101-104; Zhao, Y. 2009. Catching Up or Leading the Way? American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.; Ananat, E., Gassman-Pines, A., Francis, D., and Gibson-Davis, C. 2011. Children left behind: The effects of statewide job less on student acbievement. NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) Working Paper No. 17104, JEL No. 12,16.

There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). OECD

Excessive testing: The Department of Education is urging testing in more subjects, in earlier and later grades, including interim testings, and doing value-added testing (which means testing in the fall as well as spring). This could mean a 20-fold increase in testing over what we have now.

Testing in more subjects: The Blueprint A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. United States Department of Education  March 2010

In earlier and later grades: PARCC document:

Interim tests: Duncan, A. September 9, 2010. Beyond the Bubble Tests: The Next Generation of Assessments -- Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks to State Leaders at Achieve's American Diploma Project Leadership Team Meeting: The Blueprint, (op. cit.) p. 11. 

Value-added testing: (August 25, 2010). The Blueprint (op.cit.), p. 9. 

New York CIty budget: New York Times, "In city schools, tech spending to rise despite cuts," March 30, 2011.

School nurses: Berliner, 2009 (op. cit.)

Libraries: Krashen, S. 2011. Protecting students against the effects of poverty: Libraries. New England Reading Association Journal 46 (2): 17-21. Available at

1 comment:

Todney Harris said...

Thus far, I have documented my personal feelings regarding the No Child Left Behind legislation. As of the last week in September of 2011, the act will most certainly be revised during Obama’s administration. Thus far, Arne Duncan the secretary of the Department of Education has revealed that some of the provisions in the act will be either be waived or substantially changed. The major provision that all children be proficient in math and reading by 2014 will most definitely be scrapped from the legislation. In return for the waiver, the Obama administration is expected to attach teacher performance to students test scores and create the expectation that charter school are to be expanded within each state. Obama and Arne Duncan have also stated publicly that each state would be given more flexibility regarding testing controls and standards.

I agree with the fact that states should have more control. I states previously that I think it is unconstitutional for the federal government to intervene in the affairs of education. However, I still have a major issue with linking teacher evaluations and performance based on student test scores and student data. As an educator, I have a fundamental disagreement with attaching teacher performance to student data and testing scores. I can attest for the record that teachers try their best each and every day. Educators have to work with the students that they are given. It is our hope that all students come to school every day willing to work hard and to learn. However, there are just too many variables that educators cannot control that undermine the process. I think that some common sense has to be applied to in this situation.

The overall consensus is that that requiring all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014 has resulted in unnecessary pressure being put upon educators and administration. The pressure has resulted in cheating scandals that occurred in the states of Georgia and Connecticut.

A widespread scandal within the educational community ensued when the Governor’s office of student achievement investigated the abnormal number of erasures on student answer sheets. As a result of this investigation, principals, teachers and other department officials were implicated in the scandal. As a result these public officials and educational staff were either forced to resign or were fired if they weren’t willing to resign officially.

Another cheating scandal erupted in Waterbury Connecticut at Hopeville School. An administrator and a teacher were implicated in the tampering of elementary test scores. The Connecticut Mastery tests were subject to tampering in an effort to raise test scores as well. A state investigation found irregularities in the school's scores on the State Mastery Tests, there were major improvements, and in some cases, scoring top in Connecticut.

If student data and test scores are still going to be the focus of the No Child Left Behind revision, then more scandals could be a very real possibility in the future. I think it is folly to continue to place undue pressure on teachers and administration. This is the very core essence of the bill that needs revision! I just cannot comprehend why this key issue hasn’t been understood by Mr. Duncan or President Obama.