The Oklahoma State Board of Education recently adopted higher testing standards for elementary and middle school students. According to the Tulsa World, the higher standards result from recommendations of a committee of educators and business representatives. This effort responded to charges from business and conservative groups (and some left-leaning observers) that we set up test standards so most students would be considered proficient under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
New standards initially will result in a drop in the proportion of students who meet basic and proficient standards in math and reading. If the theory behind high test standards is correct, students eventually will learn more and score higher on the more difficult tests. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett argues:
There’s no doubt the bar has been significantly raised on what Oklahoma students are expected to know in math and reading in Grades 3-8. However, the Board and I believe this action was necessary to ensure Oklahoma students are competitive nationally and internationally and that our schools continue to move forward.
Higher standards are one education reform that people from across the political spectrum often support. It’s important to remember, though, that higher test standards and better outcomes are not necessarily the same thing. Dana Goldstein recently pointed out the difference in The American Prospect. Her column “Testing Testing” chronicles the growing movement for a national testing standard, cautioning that agreement on test standards can be oversold. Among Goldstein’s concerns is that the national testing movement is partly propelled by companies that make a living selling standardized tests. Another is that high standards can be created and attained through means other than testing.
Goldstein points out that Finland, with the highest-rated education system in the world, has high and specific standards for what students must be able to do, but no mandatory testing. She fears America is moving toward the exact opposite.
It would be a shame if national education reform further cemented a system in which passing standardized tests is the goal of learning.
Education is fundamental in creating real opportunity for all Oklahomans. Whether in Oklahoma or nationwide, taxpayers and leaders should demand more from the educational system. But we should never forget the “more” we want is more learning. More tests with higher standards are only important if they truly promote more learning.