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High-Stakes Testing

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

The Issue

In 200l the Federal government mandated as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), that all districts receiving federal funds must administer standardized tests annually, in reading and math to all students in grades 3 to 8, and once in high school. Federal law requires each state to write and administer its own tests, define scores that represent proficiency, assign penalties for low scores, and report results to the public.

Photo credit: Susan Kaeser

Ohio uses individual test results to make decisions about students, and aggregated scores on standardized tests for individual schools and school districts to judge teacher competence and education quality. Failure to meet expected test scores leads to serious consequences. Test-based accountability is also known as high-stakes testing.

High-Stakes Consequences for Ohio Schools and Children

  • Third graders are retained in grade

  • High school students denied diploma

  • Teachers evaluated as less competent

  • School attendance area eligible for EdChoice vouchers

  • School district governance transferred to Academic Destress Commission

Testing has been an effective tool for promoting a narrative of public school failure, while avoiding solutions to the real barriers to student success and equity.

​LWVO Position on High-Stakes Testing

Well-designed standardized tests have positive uses, however, attaching high- stakes consequences to test results negatively impacts student wellbeing, curricular programs, district budgets, and instructional time. Therefore:

  • Standardized assessments should not be used for high-stakes determinations such as grade promotion or graduation requirements.

  • Standardized assessments should not be a basis for evaluating the effectiveness of teachers or administration.

  • Funding should not be linked to standardized test performance. All schools should have adequate funding to enable their students to be successful.

  • Standardized testing, including benchmark and practice tests, should be limited in frequency.

Focus for Advocacy

  • End the use of tests to make high stakes decisions.

  • Support appropriate uses of standardized tests.

  • Support realistic strategies to improve student success, including adequate and equitable funding, wrap around services, and social emotional learning.

  • Support meaningful state reports that define education opportunity available in individual school districts.


High Stakes Testing Basics

The assumption behind test-based accountability is that teachers will work harder and students will learn more, if teachers face negative consequences when their students do not meet testing goals. Test-based accountability has had a profound effect on public schools but has not produced the promised results.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) set 2014 as the year by which all children would demonstrate proficiency. No state met that goal. Nonetheless, in 2015 Congress renewed its commitment to test-based accountability with the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Because of the covid pandemic, the Federal government granted waivers to suspend annual testing. Ohio did not administer state tests in the 2019 school year, and suspended consequences and report cards in 2020. High-stakes testing resumed in the 2021-22 school year. As part of the 2022-23 biennium budget, the legislature put a two-year moratorium on using test scores to define new locations where EdChoice vouchers are available.

While standardized tests are useful for informing instruction and providing a snapshot of an individual student’s progress at a single moment in time, it is inappropriate to use them for making high-stakes decisions. (See Daniel Koretz). Standardized tests are a much more reliable measure of the income level of test takers than what students master in school. They are not reliable, accurate or robust enough to make judgments about student achievement, teacher effectiveness, or education quality.

When high-stakes consequences are tied to test performance, it incentivizes raising test scores without necessarily improving student learning. The focus on measurement and judgment damages the quality of life in the classroom, and undermines the purposes of education. Subjects that are not tested receive less attention, and instruction often emphasizes measurable skills rather than critical thinking. Creativity is lost.

High-stakes testing unfairly puts the full burden for improving student success on educators, and ignores the role of the legislature, structural inequality, individuals, and other factors in making widespread success and high-level learning possible.

There are multiple concerns related to Ohio’s uses of standardized tests:

  • Ohio tests more subjects than the federal law requires and often administers multiple tests in some subjects.

  • Each year the Ohio Department of Education increases the cut scores that define proficiency, masking progress and making it harder for districts to be defined as successful.

  • Using aggregated test scores for a class to evaluate teacher effectiveness does not account for the differences in the students who teachers educate or resources available. This makes teachers in most challenging situations appear to be failures, and misrepresenting skills of those who teach students with greater support.

  • The legislature designed a reporting system that relies heavily on test scores to grade school district quality. It reduces the complex and multi-faceted work of education to a simple letter grade, misinforming the public about education quality.

  • Three districts have fallen under state control because of test scores. Rather than strengthen the school district it has consistently created tension and hostility in already fragile situations. The 2022-23 budget returned governance to local elected school boards in East Cleveland, Youngstown, and Lorain and gave them three years to develop and implement improvement plans so they can remain independent of the state. The legislature did not end the use of Academic Distress Commissions despite their negative impact on communities.

Implementation of high-stakes testing has not improved student performance but it has changed education. Testing now drives education in schools across the nation. The high-stakes consequences of test scores make it difficult for educators and school leaders to minimize testing or reject it as relevant to education progress.

Resources and Links

Howard Fleeter analysis of test scores and income.

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