Testing Helps Fix School Inequity and Benefits Students of Color

The bubble tests that politicians are pushing measure low-level basic skills, not the kind of complex critical thinking needed in the twenty-first century. Wealthy school communities pay relatively little attention accordingly; they know these are bad tests and consider test prep a waste of time. Most private schools don’t take these tests at all. They provide their students with art, social studies, field trips, robotics, and math games. They focus on real-world, hands-on projects that keep students curious and engaged. When children are interested and given freedom to think and create, they want to learn. And when students want to learn, they learn a lot more.

Bill Gates, like many of his fellow promoters of Common Core testing, sent his children to a Waldorf-style progressive school devoid of bubble testing.  When a reporter asked him whether he felt conflicted about emphasizing metrics-based schooling over the style of project-based learning he provides for his own children, he said, “Unfortunately, the highly curious student is a small percentage of the kids.” In other words, his children are curious and self-motivated and therefore they deserve this type of learning, but most public school children are not.

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Politicians talk a lot about how schools need testing to improve outcomes for students of color. But how testing is supposed to magically improve things is never made clear.  A test is only a measurement device. When you get on a bathroom scale and it tells you that you’re 20 pounds overweight, it doesn’t help you lose that weight! Measuring—even when it’s done correctly—isn’t going to improve education for students of color unless something is done to improve inequities in the system.

Politicians who talk a lot about testing seldom talk about implementing real change. Schools in communities of color have:

  • Overall less funding on both a national level and in New York State* 

  • Less educated teachers. Black students are more than 4 times as likely as white students to attend schools where less than 80 percent of teachers are fully certified.**

  • Worse facilities: run-down buildings, bathrooms with no toilet paper, broken lights, leaky ceilings…

  • Higher class sizes

… but you almost never hear the supporters of testing calling for an end to these disparities!

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If annual testing of every child was essential for advancing poor and minority children, you’d expect those children to perform better in education systems that have annual testing and worse in systems that don’t. But that is simply not the case. Most high-performing nations have no annual accountability testing requirements, yet have higher average performance for poor and minority students — and smaller gaps between rich and poor students — than we do here in the United States.***

For an in-depth look at testing and the racial and economic divide, see Mother Jones, September/October 2015
New York Times, 3/11/2015
** Mother Jones, September/October 2015
*** National Center on Education and the Economy, 5/29/2015