By Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post
America has been obsessed with student standardized tests for nearly 20 years. Now it looks like the country is at the beginning of the end of our high-stakes testing mania — both for K-12 “accountability” purposes and in college admissions.
When President George W. Bush signed the K-12 No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, the country began an experiment based on the belief that we could test our way to educational success and end the achievement gap. His successor, Barack Obama, ratcheted up the stakes of test scores under that same philosophy.
It didn’t work, which came as no surprise to teachers and other critics. They had long pointed to extensive research showing standardized test scores are most strongly correlated to a student’s life circumstances. Real reform, they said, means addressing students’ social and emotional needs and the conditions in which they live, and making improvements in school buildings.
Higher education was not immune to the testing frenzy, either, at least not in admissions. Scores on the SAT or ACT became an important factor in deciding who was accepted. College rankings — led by the annual lists of U.S. News & World Report, which were heavily weighted on test scores — became powerful as students relied on them and schools tried to improve their rankings with targeted reforms. Scholarship programs were linked to test scores, and some companies checked the scores of potential hires. Florida spent millions of dollars to give bonuses to teachers with high SAT scores — even decades after the tests were taken.
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