The recent battle reported from Washington about proposed national testing program does not tell the most important political story about high stakes tests. Politically popular school accountability systems in many states already revolve around statistical results of testing with high-stakes environments. The future of high stakes tests thus does not depend on what happens on Capitol Hill. Rather, the existence of tests depends largely on the political culture of published test results. Most critics of high-stakes testing do not talk about that culture, however. They typically focus on the practice legacy of testing, the ways in which testing creates perverse incentives against good teaching. More important may be the political legacy, or how testing defines legitimate discussion about school politics. The consequence of statistical accountability systems will be the narrowing of purpose for schools, impatience with reform, and the continuing erosion of political support for publicly funded schools. Dissent from the high-stakes accountability regime that has developed around standardized testing, including proposals for professionalism and performance assessment, commonly fails to consider these political legacies. Alternatives to standardized testing which do not also connect schooling with the public at large will not be politically viable.
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