Next Public Affairs Discussion Group to cover effects of high-stakes testing on students, schools

Dale Whittington, director of research and evaluation in the Shaker Heights City School District, will lead the next Public Affairs Discussion Group titled, “The Effects of High-Stakes Testing on Students and Schools.”

The event will take place Friday, Oct. 10, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in the Dampeer Room of the Kelvin Smith Library.

The current controversy about “common core” state standards for curricula is the latest battle in at least a two-decade war over the content and use of tests of student performance. What makes tests “high-stakes” is that they are used to evaluate not only the students but the teachers and schools. In the dominant model, as promoted especially by reformers who claim to be following the model of successful businesses, test scores are supposed to be used to justify firing some teachers, rewarding others, overhauling supposedly failing school systems, and to guide parents who would “shop” for the “best” school.

This model has some bipartisan support: an emphasis on testing has been carried over from President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” to President Obama’s Department of Education, led by Arne Duncan. It has been promoted by a powerful array of foundations, especially the Gates Foundation, Walton Foundation and Broad Foundation. Critics are accused of favoring selfish teachers and their unions over the needs of children.

But perhaps the most prominent critic is Diane Ravitch, an historian of education who served as assistant secretary of education in the George H. W. Bush administration and who moved from supporting testing and market-based reform to criticizing them, in books such as Reign of Error and The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Tests and their interpretations can be flawed in many ways, yet school system administrators and teachers must determine whether (and how) to “teach to the test,” and what to cut in order to meet the priority put on test results.

Whittington will speak based on her work as a researcher and in the Shaker Heights school system about the debates.

Since 1989, faculty, emeriti, students and staff have gathered on Fridays for a brown-bag lunch and to discuss topics in public affairs.

For updates and more information about the Friday lunch schedule, visit