The following article appeared on April 5, 2006 in the Anchorage Daily News:
The emphasis on "high test scores" negates the intrinsic value of learning and trivializes the educational process. We must expect a great deal more from our children than correct answers on a multiple-choice test.

High-Stakes Tests Trivialize Education
By Cheryl Hilmes

Standardized testing of schoolchildren is upon us once again.

Conversations in education have been dominated by the topic of test scores for the past two decades. Standardized tests are praised as "the answer" to teacher accountability, higher student achievement, standards, and expectations. The standardized-testing myth, unquestioned and unchallenged, will result in serious and lasting consequences for our schools and our children.

There is no test that measures the quality of a school. True accountability is realized from an informed and committed community. High-stakes testing in fact reduces accountability in that it relies solely on test scores, imposing destructive consequences and ignoring all other factors that contribute to a successful school.

The emphasis on "high test scores" negates the intrinsic value of learning and trivializes the educational process. We must expect a great deal more from our children than correct answers on a multiple-choice test. Our country must provide a challenging, meaningful and personalized educational experience that engenders a sense of purpose and responsibility in our future citizens.

Studies have found income to be the greatest indicator of perfomance on standardized tests. The real tragedy is an accountability process that diverts critical resources away from real solutions such as smaller class sizes, teacher training, counseling and family services, curriculum resources and after-school programs. An actual commitment to improving achievement descrepancies for poor and minority children would ensure adequate and equitable funding.

Every child thinking and performing the same is not the sign of a quality education. Twenty years of research has taught educators the importance of modifying instruction in order to engage students and support individuals' unique needs and talents. Requiring every child to conform to a preconceived standard of achievement compromises independent thinking and undermines the principles of a democracy.

If we do not begin now to promote genuine intellectual freedom in our public school classrooms - among our teachers and our students - the claim that we as a nation stand for "freedom" will be empty. Standardization, and the practice of evaluating schools based entirely on test scores, undermines the pursuit of quality education. It transfers the crucial responsibility of informing, guiding and monitoring the educational system to test publishers who have no accountability.

Business leaders and plicymakeers, distantly removed from the students, have superseded educators in making vital decisions that affect our children. Parents are evaluating the quality of schools on "data points" instead of doing the necessary work of observing, asking questions and participating in the efforts of our schools. Teachers and administrators have too willingly signed away both their rights and responsibilities to promote learning that is individualized, challenging and meaningful. They now have all of the liability and none of the authority. Instead of bringing educational improvement, today's current reform system has narrowed the range of thought, paralyzed the imagination and impeded our children's intrinsic motivation and the natural will to learn.

Standardized testing benefits the four major testing publishers: McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin, Pearson Assessments and Harcourt General. It allows for complete control over curriculum resources, teacher training and other assessment tools, creating a monopoly over the "public education marketplace." McGraw Hill reported profit of $49 million in 1993 before high-stakes testing; in 2004, with contracts in 26 states, profits exceeded $340 million. The question of who benefits from school competition and the high-stakes testing craze grows increasingly clearer.

Our educational institutions are the best hope for our future. If we do not rise up in the face of this injustice, our nation will continue even further in a downward spiral, turning education into a race instead of the lifelong journey it was meant to be.

Cheryl Hilmes has been an educator for 17 years and teaches at Chinook Elementary School in Anchorage.