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de-testing and de-grading schools

Authentic Alternatives to Accountability and Standardization


Edited By Joe Bower and Paul L. Thomas

A century of education and education reform, along with more than three decades of high-stakes testing and accountability, reveals a disturbing paradox: education has a steadfast commitment to testing and grading. This commitment persists despite ample research, theory, and philosophy revealing the corrosive consequences of both testing and grading in an education system designed to support human agency and democratic principles. This revised edited volume brings together a collection of updated and new essays that confronts the failure of testing and grading. The book explores the historical failure of testing and grading; the theoretical and philosophical arguments against testing and grading; the negative influence of tests and grades on social justice, race, class, and gender; and the role that they play in perpetuating a deficit perspective of children. The chapters fall under two broad sections. Part I, Degrading Learning, Detesting Education: The Failure of High-Stake Accountability in Education, includes essays on the historical, theoretical, and philosophical arguments against testing and grading. Part II, De-Grading and De-Testing in a Time of High-Stakes Education Reform, presents practical experiments in de-testing and de-grading classrooms for authentic learning experiences.
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Chapter Four: America’s Obsessive-Assessment Disorder


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America’s Obsessive-Assessment Disorder


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) feel the need to check things repeatedly, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over. The thoughts and rituals associated with OCD cause distress and get in the way of daily life” (2015). From this perspective, K–12 educational systems in the United States suffer from a similar malady, “Obsessive-Assessment Disorder.” In many schools today, students typically are expected to endure as many as 20 high-stakes tests in a single year (Lazarin, 2014). Incredibly, an urban school included in a recent study by the American Federation of Teachers administered 47 high-stakes tests over the course of a single year, an average of more than one high-stakes test per week (Nelson, 2013).

Standardized testing has even invaded kindergarten and first grade classrooms. According to Bassok, Latham, and Rorem (2015), “in 2010, roughly 30 percent of kindergarten teachers reported using standardized tests at least once a month” (p. 19). Testing was even more frequent among schools that served non-white, low-income children.

As testing has become pervasive, the daily routines of schools have become little more than an endless cycle of test preparation sessions. Of course, the compulsion to repeatedly assess often causes distress in children, but testing also disrupts a fundamental, recently neglected purpose of schooling, namely, learning (Segool, Carlson,...

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