Examining High-Stakes Testing

In summer 2013, results from Common Core–aligned tests in New York showed a steep decline in outcomes. Common Core advocates hailed the scores as an honest accounting of school and student performance, while others worried that they reflected problems with the tests, inadequate support for educators, or a lack of alignment between what schools are teaching and what’s being tested. In this article, Joshua Starr, superintendent of schools in high-performing Montgomery County, Maryland, makes the case for a three-year hiatus from high-stakes accountability testing while new standards and tests are implemented. Accountability proponent Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education from 2005 to 2009 and now president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, defends annual testing as a critical source of information, for educators as well as the public, and argues for holding the line.

Content Comments 

This article presents two interesting and divergent views about the merits of high-stakes testing, in particular, the recommendation from Superintendent Joshua Starr that the federal government provide a 3 year moratorium on high-stakes testing so that school districts and states can adapt to the requirements of the Common Core state standards and the assessments that measure them. Starr's arguments are similar to ones that we have heard from educators 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago and he unfortunately provides few facts to back up his recommendations, suggesting for example that his own school districts' accountability system, which holistically measures whether a school is supporting students' academic success, is better than NCLB-like methods. His evidence to support that contention and others is lacking, whereas Margaret Spellings provides substantial facts supporting her point of view that a moratorium would disadvantage the most disadvantaged students and their parents, who need continuous, ongoing information about school and teacher quality. The disparate viewpoints are well worth reading. Both are well written and generally avoid complicated education language. Utility is quite high, as readers will likely find information in one or both articles that supports, or at least, better informs their own points of view.