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Despite Progress, the 'Charade' of High-Stakes Testing Persists

The proliferation of high-stakes testing is most often associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the national education law that was in place for more than a decade. With good reason – the law imposed a crushing accountability regime that turned many of our schools into test prep factories and corrupted what it meant to teach and to learn. But test-based accountability was well-established long before NCLB was signed into law in 2002. And it persists today, two years after the law was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), says Daniel Koretz, author of The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better.  

While the campaign led by educators, parents and students against overtesting has helped bring about real improvements, Koretz, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, cautions that too many policymakers refuse to give up their  “blind reliance” on high-stakes tests – to the detriment of students, schools and the teaching profession. “Test-based accountability has become an end itself in American education,” he writes in The Testing Charade, “unmoored from clear thinking about what should be measured, how it should be measured, or how testing can fit into a rational plan for evaluating and improving our schools.”  Koretz recently spoke with NEA Today.

Test-based accountability didn’t begin with NCLB. When did this shift begin and what were the factors that triggered it?