Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Too Many Test, Not Enough Learning

By Alison MolchadskyPublished November 9, 2015

The current public school system in the United States is based on test taking as a form of assessment. However, the rampant test taking is severely detrimental to the education system and is in definite need of reform. Obama's recent announcement to pull the reign on the excessive testing is a step in the right direction, however there needs to be tangible legislation and change"”not just rhetoric.

By Alison Molchadsky
As a reaction to the United States scoring 28th out of 40th on the International Science and Math Exam, President Bush announced his No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. This act was meant to improve the countries education system by increasing the amount of tests throughout the states to make sure that each school was on track, while also forming an accountability system. The program was meant to be data-driven, in order to identify and fix failing schools. This program, as a result, increased the amount of annual tests from 6 to 17, causing a fixation on tests.
This fixation has many negative consequences. For one, it causes an incredible amount of stress in the students, with many reported throwing up in the middle of the exam. Additionally, it causes too much class time to be spent on mastering the specific test, without, in fact, learning tangible skills. It is also hard to imagine that the tests are accurately evaluating the students in a meaningful way—there is no way that a test can give the full picture.

When Obama ran for president in 2008, there seemed to be hope for the future of education in the United State. During his campaign he stated how he would seek to reduce the amount of testing and reduce the emphasis on tests since student's abilities cannot simply be reduced to a few numbers.
In practice, however, little has been done to reduce the issue of standardized testing. Obama, in his presidency, in order to narrow the disparity between different schools he adopted the Race to the Top fund and the common core curriculum. Race to the Top was meant to have states compete for funding, awarding those who implement education reform.  Awards were based on tests that followed the Common Core Curriculum. Originally, this program received bipartisan support, as an improvement from the original program.

However, the implementation of this program definitely has failed.  The program ties teacher's salary to their performances—if a student's score increases the teacher's evaluation increases, which are then tied to the teacher's salary. It also uses a formula to evaluate these teachers. Since the teacher's and the school's evaluation is then based on these Common Core exams, it causes there to be a disproportionate amount focus on the exam in the classroom.

Recently there has been an increasing amount of distress over standardized testing across the country. More and more students and schools have opted out of taking these tests, and more and more teachers have organized and pushed for their removal. In Florida especially, recently more and more students have opted out of the FCAT, causing a growing movement of animosity towards the exams.  There have been increasing amount of complaints about how the tests have many glitches, they're written poorly, cannot be a valuable assessment, fail to reflect true ability, and cause a failed accountability system for both the school and the teachers. Additionally, many schools criticize the common core curriculum claiming that it doesn't work for every school.

Additionally, in a 2013 study, the achievement gap between schools has not decreased and we have not improved our overall standing in the International Science and Math Exam. So not only are the tests frustrating for those taking them, they are not even serving their function correctly.

In response, President Obama issued a statement in late October about his plans to de-emphasize testing, and to encourage schools to reduce the amount of time spent on exams to only 2%. This is clearly a step in the right direction, since there is clearly a problem with how much emphasis there is on standardized testing. However, the problem is much deeper than just how much classroom time should be spent on the exams. There is a reason why so much time is spent on these exams, its because there is so much pressure on students, teachers, and schools, for the scores on these tests to be as high as possible. Additionally, these tests are a horrible representation of skill and ability. They simply cannot paint the whole picture of a child's abilities, strengths and weaknesses. How can there be so much pressure put on such poorly formed exams? It is time to put the number 2 pencils down and reevaluate the way education in the US is organized. It is clear that these tests are not working, and we need to go beyond just simple rhetoric to solve this important issue. More than just a limit on the amount of time spent on exams needs to be set.