Robert Linn, a leading researcher on standardized testing and past president (2002-03) of the prestigious American Educational Research Association, predicted years ago how high-stakes standardized testing would proceed. First, he said that states would lower the bar on the tests so that students test scores would, on average, improve every year. Such grade inflation would have two benefits. The Commissioner of Education could claim that the reforms they have initiated have resulted in increased student learning. Indeed, Richard Mills, New York’s previous Commissioner in Education, repeatedly cited the New York State standardized tests as evidence of the success of his policies. Furthermore, higher tests scores would reduce the penalties imposed initially by state systems, such as in New York, Texas and Florida, and later by federal systems, such as No Child Left Behind.
Second, Linn provided historical evidence that while a Commissioner of Education was in office, test scores typically rose at an unrealistic rate, and that the next commissioner, upon entering office, would reveal that the tests have become too easy and, therefore, would make scoring more difficult.
With the announcement by New York’s Commissioner of Education on July 19th that the tests have become too easy, do not give us valid information about a student’s ability, and therefore the tests will have to be harder, both of Linn’s predictions have come true. The tests became easier under the previous commissioner and now will be adjusted to lower the test scores. Once they have been lowered, Linn predicts that we can expect the scores to unrealistically rise over time so that the new commissioner can take credit for their improvement.
If one ever doubted the meaninglessness of scores on high-stakes tests, this is an admission by those at the top. This shows how standardized testing can be misused to benefit politician’s careers rather than benefiting teachers, students, and parents. We need other forms of assessment that are more objective and less easily manipulated.
For the New York Time’s article on the new policy, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/nyregion/20tests.html?hp
Robert Linn has numerous publications available online and elsewhere. For a review of some of the misuses of testing in New York, see my book High-states testing and the decline of teaching and learning: The real crisis in education.