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A new report charges that education reform may be doomed by the very method used to measure success–standardized tests. The explosion in federally mandated examinations, it argues, has so overtaxed the industry that its credibility is at risk.
This claim, offered by the nonpartisan research group the Education Sector, merits consideration in light of the tests' high stakes. Ohio students, for example, jeopardize graduation if they fail to pass the state's 10th-grade test, while districts in other states use the results to determine teacher bonuses.
Ohioans have first-hand knowledge of tests' imperfect nature. In December, state officials announced that their testing company made a scoring error that affected hundreds of students. And Ohio's hardly the only state to suffer such mistakes.
This school year alone, the Education Sector reports, states will give more than 11 million new tests, with another 11 million due to be added in the next two years. The industry's challenge exists not only in scoring so many exams accurately; companies also must ensure all these tests' questions are valid.
What's to be done? The report recommends federal investment in training more test developers, as well as creation of a federal oversight body. It also calls on states to collaborate on tests to make the process more efficient. While some smaller New England states already are exploring this last option, we find it unlikely that larger ones like Ohio would be able to agree on such a partnership.
Even so, these issues deserve attention. For any accountability system to work, all parties must have faith in the results. It's time to ensure that such confidence exists–and that it is well-placed.