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Published: 10/25/2000

Are the tests too hard?

BY RACHEL SMOLKIN
BLADE NATIONAL BUREAU

WASHINGTON - Even as "high-stakes" proficiency tests take hold around the nation, several states are considering changes to ease fears that the consequences are arriving too quickly and may unfairly penalize students.

In many states, high-stakes tests will soon determine whether a student

advances to the next grade or graduates from high school; whether a teacher or principal retains a job or receives a bonus; whether a school earns praise or endures state takeover.

Although the impact of such tests is not fully known, several states are

revising or postponing their original testing plans. Maryland education

officials delayed a requirement that high school students pass statewide

tests for graduation as of 2005. Virginia made its graduation requirement

more flexible, approving some national and international tests students may take as an alternative to state tests.

Education policy analysts attribute the spread of high-stakes testing to the birth of the standards movement. In the early 1990s, states began to set guidelines and expectations for children1s skills in English, math, science, and social studies.

Defenders of high-stakes tests, including politicians, business leaders, and some education reformers, say the exams compel students to prove they have mastered material essential in an increasingly complex and competitive world. Supporters contend that giving a diploma to an ill-prepared student robs the student of any real chance to succeed in college or the workplace.

They say tests hold all students to the same rigorous standards regardless of race or socioeconomic background.

But detractors counter that passing a test does not necessarily demonstrate knowledge. These critics argue that high-pressure tests foster "drill and kill"1 classroom teaching that emphasizes rote memorization rather than creativity, problem solving, or fun.

Several studies have raised concerns that high-stakes tests linked to grade promotion or high school graduation can lead to increased dropout rates, particularly among minority students.

Some parents and teachers worry that the high-stakes environment is creating too much stress for children. Parent and student protests are percolating in several states. In April, several hundred Massachusetts students boycotted their state tests.

And allegations of cheating or admissions of inaccurate scoring have erupted in several states, including New York and Maryland, and have further complicated the high-stakes testing debate.



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