Critics of standardized testing say scores merely reflect family income and other factors beyond schools’ control—while also narrowing the curriculum and warping instruction. Still, the tests have value, and there’s much more that schools could do to address the inequities they reveal.
“Standardized tests are best at measuring family income,” education-reform opponent Diane Ravitch has opined. “Well-off students usually score in the top half of results; students from poor homes usually score in the bottom.”
Similarly, an education policy analyst told the Washington Post earlier this year that test score gains at some high-poverty D.C. high schools didn’t mean much—and neither, presumably, did the fact that at some other high schools fewer than five percent of students scored at or above the proficient level.
“People want to read into these test scores lessons about what the schools are doing,” he said. “But these scores, even the growth scores, depend a great deal on students’ opportunities to learn outside of school. If we address the poverty and racism, then we will see these test scores increase.”
At the same time, many parents and teachers have charged that testing has distorted the curriculum, caused...