Sterling Academy Blog

High-Stakes State Assessments and Their Effect on Education

Posted by J Lee Harshbarger on Sep 22, 2014 8:49:00 PM

Between new requirements by states and those by the federal government, there is an increasing trend toward more and more testing of students, and higher and higher stakes in the process.  Twenty-five states even require kindergarteners to take state assessments, some with hour-long multiple choice tests.

There is considerable clashing these days between opposing camps on this topic.  On one side are those who demand accountability of teachers and schools in the form of successful student test scores, while the opposing side believes there is now too much emphasis on testing, which is detracting from actually educating the students.

Taking yet another test

Florida is a leading state in the increase of the testing of students.  The Washington Post posted a white paper published by the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition, which has 10 participating school districts.  This white paper details all of the effects of excessive testing, making it clear that Florida has gone overboard in its testing zeal, with some school districts being required to give 62 tests per year.  This paper reveals the sad story of not only how much time and money is wasted in the public schools administering these tests, but how much real educating of students is lost in the process.  Then to think that other states are looking to Florida as a state to emulate…why would they want to?

I recently talked to one parent from Ohio who said that at her children's public school (last decade), they had to take a standardized test in March.  From September through March, all they did was prepare for the test.  The kids didn't even open up textbooks until after the test in March!

Ted Sizer, an educational reformer who was a dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Chairman of the Board at Brown University, criticized the ways these tests destroy education.  “At the worst, these standardized tests provoke a kind of drilling mentality. It's a game. And so students learn the game. What they learn is to hire people to teach you how to figure the test out. Not the substance, but the test.... The lesson learned is 'to get a high score, this is what you have to do. If you want to get ahead in life, jiggle the system.' And that's anti-intellectual and pernicious." (Quote reported by John Merrow in Testing, Assessment, and Excellence.)

Besides the sheer amount of time that is used up from preparing for and taking state assessments, and the way true learning is lost by drilling students in preparation for the tests, a big problem with these tests is that the resulting scores are used in punitive ways against the students, the teachers, and the schools themselves.  It creates a demoralizing environment for all, ironically in the name of supposedly creating better education.  Merrow states, “Holding schools or (especially) students accountable almost solely on the basis of student scores on machine-scored tests establishes a ‘whips and chains’ system. When we do that, we're using tests as a weapon, nothing more."

Have you run into this situation with your son or daughter at school?  Is too much time being spent in testing, and too much pressure being placed on the students to perform well, perhaps so that the school will get a good rating by the state?

While Sterling Academy is in Florida, we are a private school and thus do not have to subject our students to these endless state assessments.  The quizzes, tests, and exams that our students take are part of their courses as a way of ensuring that they have comprehended the material they have studied.  There is no pressure on the student to get a certain score to bring the school rankings up; the student is simply expected to do the best that he or she can do.  The teachers are free to spend the time with the students to teach them in ways they believe will help the students learn the material best.

If you are frustrated by the demands put on your student by your state's high-stakes assessments, consider an alternative, such as Sterling Academy (available to students in any location).  Due to the nature of online schooling, a student at Sterling must be self-motivated and determined to work hard to succeed, of course, but the time will be spent more productively, learning the subject matter rather than getting prepped for yet another state assessment.


This post was written by J Lee Harshbarger, Principal of Sterling Academy.  If you would like to talk to our Enrollment Counselor, Carol Moser, to see if our school would be a good fit for your child, you may call her at 866-502-1050 Option 1, or email her at

            Go to school online        

Topics: Student Testing

Get Updates from Sterling Academy

We consistently produce articles meant to inform and educate those interested in online schooling. Subscribe to be the first to know when we publish new content.