Essays About Standards and Testing

“. . . [Of course it’s possible to] succeed in raising average test scores.   You deprive kids of recess, eliminate music and the arts, cut back the class meetings and discussions of current events, offer less time to read books for pleasure, squeeze out the field trips and interdisciplinary projects and high-quality electives, spend enough time teaching test-taking tricks, and, you bet, it’s possible to raise the scores.  But that result is meaningless at best.  When a school or district reports better test results this year than last, knowledgeable parents and other observers respond by saying, “So what?”  (because higher test scores do not necessarily reflect higher quality teaching and learning) – or even, “Uh-oh” (because higher test scores may indicate lower quality teaching and learning).”

— “Standardized Testing: Separating Wheat Children from Chaff Children”

  1. “Standardized Testing and Its Victims”Education Week, September 27, 2000
  2. “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow: Using Accountability to “Reform” Public Schools to Death”, Phi Delta Kappan, April 2004
  3. “Standardized Testing: Separating Wheat Children from Chaff Children”
    Foreword to What Happened to Recess…? by Susan Ohanian, 2002
  4. “It’s Time to Rethink Education Policy,” blog post, October 15, 2019
  5. “Debunking the Case for National Standards: One-Size-Fits-All Mandates & Their Dangers,”Education Week, January 14, 2010
  6. Introduction to More than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, edited by J. Hagopian, 2014
  7. “What ‘No Child Left Behind’ Left Behind,” blog post, December 18, 2015
  8. “Emphasis on Testing Leads to Sacrifices in Other Areas”USA Today, August 22, 2001
  9. “Fighting the Tests: A Practical Guide to Rescuing Our Schools”Phi Delta Kappan, January 2001
  10. “Requesting Testing,”Rethinking Schools, Summer 2002
  11. “The Worst Kind of Cheating”Streamlined Seminar[NAESP], Winter 2002-03
  12. “Tests That Cheat Students”New York Times, December 9, 1999
  13. “Two Cheers for an End to the SAT”Chronicle of Higher Education, March 9, 2001
  14. “Beware of the Standards, Not Just the Tests”Education Week, September 26, 2001
  15. “Confusing Harder with Better”Education Week, September 15, 1999
  16. “One-Size-Fits-All Education Doesn’t Work”Boston Globe, June 10, 2001
  17. “Why Students Lose When ‘Tougher Standards’ Win” (interview), Educational Leadership, September 1999
  18. “Accelerated Direct Success”(parody ad for a test-prep company), English Journal,
    September 2001
  19. “Sell Schools, Not Test Scores,”Realtor Magazine, January 2000

And more, for those with access to a good library:

— “Fighting the Tests: Turning Frustration into Action,” Young Children, March 2001
— “Burnt at the High Stakes,” Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 51, no. 4, Sept./Oct. 2000
— “Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools,” American School Board Journal, October 1999
— “Poor Teaching for Poor Kids,” Language Arts, January 2002
— “No to More Standardized Testing,” Boston Globe, January 26, 2001
— “The Real Threat to American Schools,” Tikkun, March/April 2001
— “Fighting the Toxic Status Quo,” English Education, January 2002 (interview)
— “Testing on Trial,” Creative Classroom, January/February 2002 (interview)

For a more detailed discussion of these issues:
The Schools Our Children Deserve and The Case Against Standardized Testing

Finally, a word about the Many Children Left Behind Act:

“…We must quit confining our complaints about NCLB to peripheral problems of implementation or funding. Too many people give the impression that there would be nothing to object to if only their own school had been certified as making adequate progress, or if only Washington were more generous in paying for this assault on local autonomy. We have got to stop prefacing our objections by saying that, while the execution of this legislation is faulty, we agree with its laudable objectives. No. What we agree with is some of the rhetoric used to sell it, invocations of ideals like excellence and fairness. NCLB is not a step in the right direction. It is a deeply damaging, mostly ill-intentioned law, and no one genuinely committed to improving public schools (or to advancing the interests of those who have suffered from decades of neglect and oppression) would want to have anything to do with it.

“Ultimately, we must decide whether we will obediently play our assigned role in helping to punish children and teachers. Every in-service session, every article, every memo from the central office that offers what amounts to an instruction manual for capitulation slides us further in the wrong direction until finally we become a nation at risk of abandoning public education altogether. Rather than scrambling to comply with its provisions, our obligation is to figure out how best to resist.”

— from “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow,” April 2004

(An adaptation of this article appears alongside essays about NCLB by Deborah Meier, Ted Sizer, Linda Darling-Hammond, and others in an anthology published by Beacon Press: Many Children Left Behind)

Copyright © 2004 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author’s name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page. — © Alfie Kohn