The Perils of Testing

By Skip Kiefer

With the new school year upon us, there is an exciting, grassroots movement to improve our schools.

Fayette Advocates for Balance in the Classroom (FayetteABC) is a group of parents concerned about test-driven instruction in our schools.

Their issues include not only the instructional emphasis placed on preparing for state and national accountability assessments, but also the excessive time spent on local testing and test preparation.

Excessive testing, they suggest, distorts their children’s experiences in school and precludes opportunities to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of their sons and daughters.

Evidence indicates an emphasis on accountability testing undermines the authority of teachers, leads to students dropping out of school earlier, and narrows the curriculum.

And, according to a recent evaluation by the National Research Council, accountability testing does not improve student achievement.

Studies of results on comparable assessments, for example, do not replicate score gains found on Kentucky’s assessments — that is, students learn to take a particular test but do not master the instructional material upon which the test is based.

A result of a test is but a fuzzy snapshot of what a child knows and can do.

And because of the imprecision of educational measurements, tens of thousands of Kentucky kids each year when given the labels of Novice, Apprentice, Proficient, or Distinguished are given incorrect ones.

Students are labeled proficient when they are not or are not labeled proficient when they are.

Instead of a snapshot provided by a test, a good teacher is a parent’s most valuable source of information.

A teacher can discuss how well a pupil performs on required tests, and how well the child operates in a variety of classroom activities and settings.

It is good that FayetteABC has sounded the alarm about these excesses because even more testing is forthcoming.

At the Federal level, the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary School Act (No Child Left Behind) will surely contain more testing because of a misguided attempt to use test scores to measure teacher performance.

At the state level, Senate Bill 1 is, at best, just more testing.

In addition, Kentucky is part of both consortia that will build new assessments for what are called the Common Core Standards.

Finally, Fayette County schools, beginning in kindergarten, do still more of their own testing and preparing for tests, over and above what is done to meet federal and state requirements.

If this were football, the schools would be penalized for “piling on.”

More than anything, FayetteABC wants parents, teachers and administrators to come together to engage in a conversation about effects of test-driven instruction.

Although state and federal laws mandate testing, they do not mandate the current practices of testing and test preparation and how they limit classroom instruction.

Recently, FayetteABC presented its concerns to the Fayette County Board of Education, asking that body to endorse a more balanced approach to instruction in our schools.

FayetteABC has an online petition signed by nearly 400 county residents from at least 14 different schools and 16 zip codes that continues to grow.

Those of similar minds organized a Save our Schools protest recently in Washington D.C. Actor Matt Damon, keynote speaker and son of a teacher, spoke of the pernicious effects of so much testing and the lasting influences of dedicated teachers.
To learn more about FayetteABC, and perhaps to join the initiative, visit