It is difficult to think about educational policy or educational reform without thinking about testing. In practice, all the policy talk about “systemic reform,” standards, “No Child Left Behind,” and many other rallying cries really revolve in practice around externally imposed tests.
Whereas advocates of various ideological stripes argue about whether testing is good or bad, state policymakers, school district leaders, curriculum specialists, and citizens of all sorts arc forced to make decisions about how to design and respond to new testing systems, what incentives should accompany those tests, and what educators need to know to make sure that testing helps children rather than keeps them from becoming more successful and better informed adults.
Thus a whole range of people need to know much more about the consequences of testing and how those consequences depend on a variety of local decisions.
Over the last 30 years, we have learned a lot about how state testing affects teachers and students, but we lack the kind of scientifically based research that recent federal legislation demands. In fact there is a good deal of ambiguity about the effects of testing. The same test may lead to different consequences in different circumstances; and teachers may use very different strategies to prepare students for tests.
To help sort through this ambiguity and provide a firmer basis for decisions, this book provides a hard look at the effects of testing in one state and probes, in detail, the ambiguity of test preparation and how test preparation practices are influenced by what teachers know and the leadership coming from the school and district.
By taking a comprehensive look at the variation in practice in one state, we hope to offer many people guidance on how to take steps to ensure that testing helps all children learn more, not less.