By Murray Levine and Adeline Levine
A dispute between newly appointed Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela Brown and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore reflects the continued and unwarranted reliance of educational administrators, politicians and the public on academic achievement test scores (Buffalo News, Sept. 6). The No Child Left Behind law was introduced in 2002, with drastic consequences for the failure to increase achievement test scores dramatically by 2014. Proponents of high-stakes testing promised to increase test scores for all students, and predicted closure of the majority-minority gap in scores. We now have 10 years of experience to evaluate those propositions.
In New York State, very small improvements in achievement test scores were registered. In English Language Arts, students on average answered only three more items correct in 2011 than they did in 2006. We don't know what that small increment means educationally. But, based on an estimate of New York State spending on NCLB testing, each additional correct item on the ELA test cost $25.7 million. Math scores increased only slightly.
For those years, New York State students showed no change on the nation's report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. And nationwide, change in achievement test scores on NAEP has been equally small.
Extensive test preparation may impair learning of subjects not tested. In Indiana high schools showing gains on state tests of reading and mathematics, students had lower scores on the science portion of a national test used for college admissions, compared to students from schools that did not show gains.
The majority-minority gap in achievement scores nationwide has closed slightly. Between 2003 and 2011, the gap was reduced by only 12 percent. Black and Hispanic students showed slightly larger rates of gain on the NAEP tests than did white students, but after nine years of high-stakes testing, minority students were still left far behind.
High-stakes achievement testing has not only failed to live up to the promises of its proponents and distorted the educational process, but it has resulted in waste (money spent on testing with little gain), fraud (cheating at all levels to report better test scores) and abuse (of children subjected to excessive testing, and of teachers evaluated by tests that do not accurately measure their classroom performance.).
The high-stakes achievement test intervention has failed over the past 10 years. It is time to hold accountability accountable, to give up reliance on fallible test scores and to pay more attention to truly educating children.
Murray Levine, Ph.D., is distinguished service professor emeritus in psychology at the University at Buffalo. Adeline Levine, Ph.D., is professor emeritus in sociology at UB.