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Standardized Tests Must Support Instruction, Report Says

WEAC President Stan Johnson (right) is joined at a news conference by State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster and Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators. They discussed a new national report recommending ways to improve the use of standardized testing

Standardized tests of America's schoolchildren often fail to achieve their main purpose of improving teaching and learning, according to a national report released Tuesday (October 23, 2001) in Washington, D.C.

"In the rush to implement testing systems, too few states have tests that are designed to help teachers improve teaching methods and curriculum or are useful in helping children learn higher level thinking skills," said the report. It was issued by five education organizations: The American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, and the National Middle School Association.

In Wisconsin, WEAC was joined by the Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators in holding a news conference to publicly support the recommendations of the report.

"The state and federal governments are requiring more and more testing without giving careful thought to what would make it useful," WEAC President Stan Johnson told the Madison news conference. "Assuming that testing is the answer to every educational problem is simplistic and dangerous. Tests are just one of many techniques to help students achieve to the best of their abilities. What really matters is to make sure every kid attends a great school."

Burmaster said: "Too often the national fervor is to 'leave no child untested.' We should focus on how testing improves teaching and learning. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is working to ensure that our testing program aligns with our state's standards and drives quality instruction. Data from standardized testing must help teachers, other educators, and policymakers make decisions that improve teaching and learning."

Turner echoed that sentiment. "You don't improve student learning simply by giving them tests," he said.

The national report – titled "Building Tests to Support Instruction and Accountability" – sets nine standards for states to use when creating responsible state assessment systems (see sidebar on left side of page).

"The standards provide useful guidelines for Wisconsin policymakers considering more testing requirements," Johnson said. "We are calling on Wisconsin policymakers to make sure that any testing requirements comply with these standards."

Johnson said educators are not opposed to testing: testing can provide useful measures of student achievement and improve instruction if conducted properly.

"In these days of revenue controls and tight budgets, it is irresponsible to require more tests without providing the resources to do them correctly," he said. "School districts can barely buy books, properly compensation their staffs, or repair their roofs, much less administer expensive tests. Because of revenue controls, school districts will not have the funds to assist the state and federal governments in the testing efforts. They do not have enough money to provide adequate ongoing professional development that helps teachers and other staff assess performance or review alternative educational strategies. In addition, teachers and staff lack adequate materials in the classroom to implement identified strategies for student improvement."

Johnson said the funding issue is especially relevant in Wisconsin because the Legislature did not provide adequate resources for the Department of Public Instruction to develop the High School Graduation Test, which will take effect in 2004.

WEAC called on policymakers to consider several issues when reviewing Wisconsin testing:

  • Tests should move beyond the almost exclusive use of multiple choice items which do not do a good job of measuring problem-solving, creative thinking, and other higher-order thinking skills. More authentic measures of what students know and are able to do are needed.
  • Tests should not be used for inappropriate purposes, such as making decisions about graduation or promotion, or comparing districts and schools. One single piece of evidence should not be used to make high-stakes decisions that affect children's lives.
  • Wisconsin needs reasonable performance standards. Standards need to be set at reasonable levels that challenge students while being realistic.

The full report can be accessed online at;;;; and

Posted October 23, 2001


Education News