Over the past 8 years, a heated debate has been raging in America. This debate is over the rightful emphasis to place on standardized testing as a measure of student learning. Opponents claim that testing is an unfair measure that gives preference to students from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds at the expense of underprivileged students. While advocates argue that testing provides a valid across-the-board measure that reveals where academic improvements need to be made so that all students can get a high-quality education.

According to the National Literacy Institute, forty percent of all American children cannot read at even a basic level. Perhaps more disturbingly, 70 percent of low-income fourth graders cannot read at a basic level. Year after year, standardized tests – which measure student numeracy, reading, writing, civics, and science – show us that far too many of our K-12 schools are not enabling students to learn grade-level knowledge and skills.

Is the right response to deprioritize testing, so that we don’t know if we are preparing students to be literate citizens, or to focus on making improvements with testing as a key indicator?  

For this second edition of our 12-month series on the state of Montana education, we decided to highlight the NAEP because it is the single most authoritative assessment for evaluating the elementary and secondary performance of U.S. public and private schools. As readers enter this important topic, we encourage you to do so with an open mind.