Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Against National Standards and National Tests

Susan Notes:

It's the poverty, stupid.

Stephen Krashen

Summary of Presentation at Occupy Department of Education, Washington DC, April 1, 2012

The movement for national standards and tests is based on these claims: (1) Our educational system is broken, as revealed by US students' scores on international tests; (2) We must improve education to improve the economy; (3) The way to improve education is to have national standards and national tests that enforce the standards.

Each of these claims is false.

(1) Our schools are not broken. The problem is poverty. Test scores of students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools are among the best in world. Our unspectacular overall scores are due to the fact that the US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries (now over 21%, compared to high-scoring Finland’s 5%). Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these negatively impact school performance.

(2) Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves children's educational outcomes. Yes, a better education can lead to a better job, but only if jobs exist.

(3) There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past.

No educator is opposed to assessments that help students to improve their learning. The amount of testing proposed by the US Department of Education in connection to national standards is astonishing, more than we have ever seen on this planet, and much more than the already excessive amount demanded by NCLB: Testing will be expanded to include all subjects that can be tested and more grade levels. There will be "interim" tests given through the year and there may be pretests in the fall to measure growth, defined as increases in standardized test scores, or "value-added" measures.

The cost of implementing standards and electronically delivered national tests will be enormous, bleeding money from legitimate and valuable school activities. New York City is budgeting a half a billion dollars just to connect children to the internet so that they can take the national tests. This extrapolates to about $25 billion nationally for this expense alone.

This money could be spent to protect children from the effects of poverty, i.e. on expanded and improved breakfast and lunch programs, school nurses (at present there are more school nurses per child in low poverty schools than in high poverty schools) and improved school and public libraries, especially in high-poverty areas.

Rather than spend on standards and tests, investing in protecting our children from the effects of poverty would raise test scores. More important, it is the right thing to do.

Some sources:

"Test scores of students from middle class homes ...: Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/Bracey-Report. Berliner, D. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. In press. Tienken, C. 2010. Common core state standards: I wonder? Kappa Delta Phi Record 47 (1): 14-17.

"Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books": Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential; Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership 55(4): 18-22.

Improving the economy ....: Baker, K. 2007. Are international tests worth anything? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 101-104; Zhao, Y. 2009. Catching Up or Leading the Way? American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.; Ananat, E., Gassman-Pines, A., Francis, D., and Gibson-Davis, C. 2011. Children left behind: The effects of statewide job less on student acbievement. NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) Working Paper No. 17104, JEL No. 12,16. http://www.nber.org/papers/w17104

There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v14n1/. OECD. Tienken, C., 2011. Common core standards: An example of data-less decision-making. Journal of Scholarship and Practice. American Association of School Administrators [AASA], 7(4): 3-18. http://www.aasa.org/jsp.aspx.

Testing in more subjects: The Blueprint A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. United States Department of Education March 2010

In earlier and later grades: PARCC document: http://www.parcconline.org/sites/parcc/files/PARCC%20MCF%20Response%20to%20Public%20Feedback_%20Fall%202011%20Release.pdf

Interim tests: Duncan, A. September 9, 2010. Beyond the Bubble Tests: The Next Generation of Assessments -- Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks to State Leaders at Achieve's American Diploma Project Leadership Team Meeting: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/beyond-bubble-tests-next-generation-assessments-secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-state-l. The Blueprint, (op. cit.) p. 11.

Value-added measures:
http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-statehouse-convention-center-little-rock-arkansas (August 25, 2010). The Blueprint (op.cit.), p. 9.

New York City budget: New York Times, "In city schools, tech spending to rise despite cuts," March 30, 2011.

School nurses: Berliner, 2009 (op. cit.)

Libraries: Krashen, S. 2011. Protecting students against the effects of poverty: Libraries. New England Reading Association Journal 46 (2): 17-21.

— Stephen Krashen



This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.