Test-based accountability has done little to improve student performance and graduation exams have done harm by lowering graduation rates, concludes a National Research Council study. But the study distorted the evidence to confirm the panel’s anti-testing bias, writes Eric Hanushek in Grinding the Anti-Testing Ax on Education Next.
Test-based accountability hasn’t raised U.S. achievement to the same level as the highest-achieving countries worldwide, the report complains. That’s an “extraordinary” and unrealistic goal, writes Hanushek. The real question is whether it’s raised achievement significantly. He argues that it has, even by the report’s lowball estimate.
The report also claims graduation exams “decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement,” and urges states to repeal their requirements.
The best evidence suggests 2 percent of students drop out because they can’t pass a graduation exam, Hanushek writes. People who can’t pass a 10th-grade exam by the end of 12th grade aren’t likely to be high earners if they’re handed a diploma. “The economic impact on these students will be much lower than the average difference between graduate and dropout.”
Perhaps the best argument against exit exams is simple: If a student shows up for school for 12-plus years and cannot pass a 10th-grade exam, it must be the school’s fault, and it would be unfair to hold the student responsible. This argument, interestingly enough, is the precise opposite of one of the primary arguments against the testing and accountability provisions of NCLB: We should not hold schools responsible for low achievement, because achievement is affected by student motivation and family background characteristics beyond the school’s control. Taken together, the arguments embedded in the committee’s two conclusions imply that nobody—not schools, not teachers, not even students themselves—bears responsibility for low student achievement.
If we really want to maximize high school graduation, we can eliminate teacher-given exams, lower course requirements and hand out diplomas after 10 or 11 years of schooling, Hanushek writes. Certainly, the NRC should tell states not to require more math or adopt college- and career-ready standards, since raising standards will lower graduation rates.
We didn’t advocate an end to testing, Boston University’s Kevin Lang, a member of the NRC panel, told the Huffington Post.