Why we must have testing

My turn

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

A good test ... is aligned with the curriculum so that schools know whether children are actually learning the material their states have decided a child should know.

Anyone who opposes annual testing of students is an apologist for a broken system of education that dismisses certain children and classes of children as unteachable. The time has come for an end to the excuses, for the sake of the system and the children trapped inside.

Both the system and the children need reform. That's why President Bush's plan is based on the premise that every child can learn, and why it sets as its goal that no child will be left behind. The president would eliminate the excuses and the exemptions that have kept us from measuring the progress of the "hard to teach" education shorthand for economically disadvantaged, limited-English-proficiency and special education students.

The centerpiece of Bush's "No Child Left Behind" plan is a system of high standards, annual testing against those standards of every child in third through eighth grade, and a system of accountability that makes schools responsible for results.

Those who say this will result in a system in which teachers simply teach to the test don't understand the plan. A good test - the kind Bush and I support - is aligned with the curriculum so that schools know whether children are actually learning the material their states have decided a child should know. In such an aligned system, testing is a part of teaching.

And when you test, you also give irrefutable and invaluable information on student progress to parents, teachers, administrators, community members and policymakers. By making the results visible, you give each of these stakeholders a powerful incentive for change where the results aren't good enough, and for recognition and growth where the results meet and exceed our standards. Without those results, all those who care deeply about the success of our schools and our students would persist in the hopeful but misguided belief that everyone and every school is making progress.

We cannot be afraid to test and teach the children who need assistance the most, and we must not deprive them and their parents and teachers of the measure of their progress. These are the children to whom the federal government owes a special responsibility.

I know for a fact that good testing works to improve student performance, especially among the "hard to teach." I saw it happen in Houston, where I was superintendent of schools. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of children in that large urban school district who passed the Texas exit-level exam increased almost twofold: from 37 percent to 73 percent.

Nationally, record high levels of federal spending have failed to improve student performance. The time has come for meaningful change nationwide, and that means annual assessment and accountability for every child and every school. The opponents of testing would have us cling to the status quo, and I have yet to hear an argument in favor of that.

Paige is U.S. secretary of education.

Distributed by The Washington Post.



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