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By Jaekyung Lee

Let’s take a pop quiz on the ongoing debate over state education testing, an issue that is nothing less emotional than the way our schools teach our children. First questions, then answers:

Does high-stakes testing improve education? Does it meet standards of professional practice? Does it lead to higher test scores? Do countries with high-performing schools rely on it? Does it promote standards-based educational reform?

Here’s the correct answer, from my presentation at the Summit for Smarter Schools, where 2,500 people upset by the state’s over-testing of children gathered recently at Kleinhans Music Hall: No. None of the above. Absolutely not.

Based on sound research other educators are well aware of, schools are not ready to introduce high-stakes testing in a way that meets national professional standards for “sound implementation” of such a policy. Tests should match the curriculum, giving students the opportunity to learn. They don’t.

The National Research Council concluded educational gains were marginal at best. So even if students and their schools were ready for the current tests, these tests would not help students learn more.

We can certainly learn lessons from high-performing countries that promote higher standards, quality teachers, stronger community and greater equity. But high-stakes testing does not belong on that list. Nations that once counted on high-stakes testing now lean away from standardized testing due to unintended negative consequences for creativity and innovation.

It’s true that reducing time for testing and redesigning tests are necessary remedial steps. But testing critics also need to provide an alternative, a long-term solution for educational excellence. Data-driven instruction is a buzzword, and any success that comes from it depends on what kinds of data are used and how.

Data can help make education smarter only when we interpret and use it wisely. The federal government panel’s review of these studies found only weak empirical support for data-driven instruction.

Schools need more balanced and comprehensive data beyond test scores, including scores that measure students’ socio-emotional skills and creativity. Administrators and teachers should engage in collective and reflective inquiry on multiple data sources for informed decisions. The problem is that politics, not research, often leads debates and block well-informed decisions.

The key to success is putting students first and then seeking evidence-based best practices. Our schools need standards-based education with room for individualization and innovation, not standardized education. One size never fits all.

Jaekyung Lee is the dean of the Graduate School of Education for the University at Buffalo.