Wrap-up from State of Opportunity's special on high stakes testing

Jan 16, 2014

Some of the leading figures in education around the state and the nation got together on our airwaves to talk about high stakes testing today.

Jennifer White guided conversation between an illustrious group that included Diane Ravitch, Dan Varner from Excellent Schools Detroit, Amber Arellano from Education Trust Midwest, researcher and University of Michigan professor Brian Jacob, Columbia University professor and researcher Valerie Purdie Vaughns, New York City public school principal Julie Zuckerman, education historian Tracy Steffes, and our own Dustin Dwyer

The difference between a high-stakes test and just a run of the mill standardized test is of course that a high stakes test has consequences attached to it. These consequences could be for the student (exams like the ACT and the SAT are certainly high stakes for kids who want to go to college). But since No Child Left Behind it is teachers and schools that are more likely to feel the consequences of students not performing well on tests. 

One of the issues we were curious about was whether these tests have more of an impact on some children more than others, for example low-income children and children of color. Purdie Vaughns and Dustin Dwyer talked about  stereotype threat, for example. But education historian Steffes also mentioned a strong criticism of high stakes tests is that they encourage teachers to focus on kids who are right on the bubble of passing these tests, a practice that leaves out students who are struggling, and those who are doing quite well.

Some of the liveliest discussion centered around what the tests are used for. As Varner from the Michigan Department of Education said, "it's how we use the results that matters."

There was also plenty of discussion around whether or not Michigan has an opportunity to think about tests differently as we transition to the Common Core State Standards and possibly the Smarter Balanced tests that can go along with these standards.

But is Michigan ready for this transition, and could Michigan see growth of the movement to "opt out" of these tests?  Listen to the show to find out, and we'll continue to explore these issues on State of Opportunity.