“Believing we can improve schooling with more tests,” Robert
Schaeffer of FairTest once argued, “is like believing you can make
yourself grow taller by measuring your height.”
It’s a great line. Such statements are the seductive battle cries of
the anti-standards and anti-assessment crowd. But is there any reason
behind this kind of rhetoric?
Parents rarely complain that their young babies are being weighed
and measured too much—even though it can create an extra burden in an
often stressful time in their lives. That’s not because parents naively
believe these basic tests will make their babies grow faster or
taller, but rather because they trust that their doctor will use the
data from these and other tests to flag early problems and develop
individualized plans to help their children thrive.
Of course, education assessments—particularly end-of-year summative
assessments—are far more complicated than scales. But the purpose of
tests in school is no different: to flag problems early and often so
that they can be addressed before they become lifelong issues.
In education, like in medicine, there are unintended consequences to
relying on a limited number of tests...