What economists think about standardized testing

Chelsea Vail | Nov 04, 2015

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Over the last several years, many students, parents, and teachers have been vocal critics of the proliferation of standardized testing, citing stress and reduced classroom time among its drawbacks as a method for measuring success in schools. Last week, President Obama announced a plan that would address “unnecessary testing.”  

But though standardized tests have their share of opponents, they have defenders as well. The Initiative on Global Markets at Chicago Booth ran an Economic Experts Panel poll on the topic—and the results were decidedly supportive of testing.

Do the panelists think that standardized testing, all else being equal, makes it easier to predict which teachers will have the most positive impact on their students’ lives? Overwhelmingly, the panelists agree—nearly 80 percent say standardized testing is useful for evaluating teachers. Ten percent were uncertain, and the remainder had no opinion or didn’t vote.


David Autor of MIT strongly agreed, reporting a confidence level of 10 out of 10, although he conceded that there is room for improvement in the system: “It’s imperfect and can be refined, but there’s no question this approach contains useful predictive info.”

Larry Samuelson of Yale agreed, with a caveat: “Testing is just one of many measures, and is a noisy measure, and can induce distortions in behavior.”

Several panelists referred to Harvard’s Raj Chetty’s research. Chicago Booth’s Anil Kashyap cited this paper, and agreed: “I think this is what Chetty and others find, though ‘easier’ is in the eye of the beholder.”