Press Release


Rethink High-Stakes Testing

TOP DOCTORS, EDUCATORS WARN FEDERAL PUSH ON TESTS HARMFUL TO CHILDREN'S HEALTH, EDUCATION
 

Washington, D.C., April 25, 2001 -A group of the nation's most prominent psychiatrists, child development authorities, and educators called today for President Bush and Congress to "rethink the current rush to make American children take even more standardized tests." At a news conference on Capitol Hill, the group, acting under the auspices of the Maryland-based nonprofit Alliance for Childhood, cited growing evidence that "test-related stress is literally making many children sick."

The signers of the Alliance statement include four very prominent child and adolescent psychiatrists: Robert Coles, M.D., and Alvin Poussaint, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, Stanley Greenspan, M.D., of Bethesda, MD, and Marilyn Benoit, M.D., president-elect of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Well-known educators and psychologists endorsing the statement include Howard Gardner of Harvard, Theodore Sizer of Brown University, David Elkind of Tufts University, Robert Sternberg of Yale University, Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities, and Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. Other signers include Diana Chapman Walsh, President of Wellesley College; David K. Scott, Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Shirley Strum Kenny, President of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

The group's action comes just as Congress is moving ahead on President George W. Bush's education agenda, including a proposed federal requirement to test all students every year in grades 3 through 8.

"What started as a well motivated process to improve student learning has become an increasingly irrational high-stakes endeavor," said Gardner, originator of the theory of multiple intelligences, in a separate statement. "Politicians may show short term gains, but students, teachers, and the learning process are becoming casualties."

The Alliance statement notes that the growing emphasis on high-stakes testing is damaging children's education and also cites testimony from health-care professionals that children's levels of stress and test-related anxiety are showing up as headaches, stomachaches, sleep problems, attendance problems, acting out, and depression. The political push for even more standardized testing, the Alliance argues, has ignored the adverse health consequences of such policies.

Kozol, author of the books Death at an Early Age and Ordinary Resurrections, said that fourth-graders in the South Bronx had told him "they threw up on the nights before their standardized exams. What a rotten thing for us to do to children! These kinds of tests have no effect at all except to make the children terrified of school."

"The pressure on teachers to teach to tests and outperform their colleagues is translating into stressful evenings for parents and children," added Dr. Benoit of Howard University.

"Testing is really not the issue," said David Elkind, a nationally known authority on child development, in a separate statement. "Most teachers know which children are not doing well and don't need tests to tell them that. What they do need, and what there is no money or provision for, is the remediation indicated by the teacher or the test. Doing testing without providing for the remediation is like giving a serious diagnosis but declining to do the available treatment."

Joan Almon, national coordinator of the Alliance for Childhood, noted that the U.S. Surgeon General has reported that at least 10 percent of American children suffer from some kind of mental illness. The added stress of high-stakes testing, she said, places these vulnerable children at special risk.

"I have been a school nurse for 27 years in three states: Florida, Texas, and Ohio," said another signer, Sandra Gadsden, a board member of the National Association of School Nurses, in a separate statement. "The children have not changed all that much, but the pressures on them certainly have. I have seen the incidence of anxiety-related complaints in my daily health office increase exponentially with the emphasis on high-stakes testing. The test anxiety can actually completely overtake common sense and make everyone crazy."

The Alliance called for Congress to put off making any new federal requirements for standardized testing of public school students until the health effects of such policies have been studied. In addition, it called for federal protection of children against "the growing practice of making high-stakes decisions about individual students' promotion, graduation, or placement in low-track classes on the basis of a single test score."

The statement also argues that more meaningful forms of performance-based assessments have been developed by innovative schools, and that Congress should provide incentives for the further development of such alternatives to standardized tests. These assessments should measure "not just the ability to memorize facts but also the capacity for original thinking, real-world problem-solving, perseverance, and social responsibility," said the Alliance.


A Statement of Concern and Call to Action on High-Stakes Testing

SUMMARY

Current proposals to increase the amount of standardized testing in U.S. public schools are based on misconceptions about the nature and value of testing and ignore essential truths about how children develop a real love of learning. These tests invariably carry high stakes--that is, the test results are linked to serious consequences for students, teachers, and schools.

Some of the key concerns regarding high-stakes testing are:

  • Evidence is growing of harm to children's health. Parents, teachers, school nurses and psychologists, and child psychiatrists are reporting increased levels of stress and anxiety caused by tests. Test-stress, they report, is literally making children sick.
  • The technology of testing is flawed. Tests are subject to numerous forms of error and often do not accurately measure students' knowledge or ability.
  • Test scores have meaning only in the context of the whole child. In the absence of context, tests may not measure anything meaningful, or have any connection to other more authentic measures of achievement.
  • More high-stakes testing means more dropouts and fewer good teachers. Research suggests that high-stakes testing leads to large increases in the number of school dropouts, especially among minority and poor youth. It also contributes to the flight of good teachers from public schools.
  • Standardization is the enemy of effective public schools. Standardized tests impoverish the curriculum and undermine excellence.
  • There is an alternative to high-stakes testing. Innovative schools have already developed performance-based assessments that are fairer and more meaningful.

In light of the questionable benefits of high-stakes testing and its potential for long-term harm:

  • We call on President Bush, the Congress, and educational leaders to rethink the current rush to make American children take even more standardized tests.
  • We call on Congress to put off making any new federal requirements for standardized testing of public school students until the health effects of such policies have been studied.
  • We further call on Congress to protect children by prohibiting the growing practice of making high-stakes decisions about individual students' promotion, graduation, or placement in low-track classes on the basis of a single test score.
  • Finally, we call on Congress to provide incentives for states and localities to develop alternative, performance-based assessments that measure not just the ability to memorize facts but also the capacity for original thinking, real-world problem-solving, perseverance, and social responsibility--and thus hold real meaning for students, parents, schools, and communities.