Daniel Koretz has spent a career studying educational assessment and testing policy, weighing the consequences of high-stakes accountability tests. In a bracing new book that might be seen as a capstone to that work, Koretz excoriates our current reliance on high-stakes testing as a fraud — an expensive and harmful intervention that does little to improve the practices it purports to measure, instead feeding a vicious cycle of pointless test prep. The book’s title, The Testing Charade, captures his point; excessive high-stakes testing undermines the goals of instruction and meaningful learning.
For parents, teachers, school leaders, and advocates who want to understand how we got here, the book is an accessible exploration, charting a path toward more sensible assessment practices. We asked Koretz, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to reflect on how current testing policies touch the lives of parents and teachers — and how they can advocate for change.
From a parent’s point of view, the public conversation around testing can seem quite binary. There’s a pro-rigor and achievement camp, and there’s an anti-testing, opt-out camp. Can you offer a balanced framing of this for parents?
As I stress in The Testing Charade, standardized tests themselves are not the problem; the problem is the misuse and sometimes outright abuse of testing. Testing done right can be valuable, sometimes irreplaceable. For example, how do we know that the performance gap between African-American and white students is slowly narrowing, or the gap between poor and well-off students has been growing at the same time? Standardized tests.
And standardized tests, designed and used appropriately, can help teachers improve instruction. Indeed, the main use of standardized tests many years ago, when I was in school, was to improve instruction, not to hold teachers accountable.