When the outcome of a standardized test is used as the sole determining factor for making a major decision, it is known as high-stakes testing. Common examples in the United States include standardized tests administered to measure school progress under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), high school exit exams, and the use of test scores to determine whether or not a school will retain accreditation. These tests are supported by some, especially politicians, who believe that schools need more accountability. The practice is heavily criticized by many parents and educators, however, who believe that the outcome of a standardized test should be only one of many things taken into account when reaching a major decision about education.
High-stakes testing causes stress for students, parents, teachers, and school administrators, and has been reported in some cases to even lead to psychological distress so severe that it requires hospitalization or other treatment. The idea that performance on a single exam could change the course of someone's life is distasteful to some people, especially those who disapprove of standardized tests in general. Many professional organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, have spoken out against this type of testing because they believe that major decisions require seeking out a balance of information, including in-class performance, interviews, observation, projects, and classwork.
When testing is used to evaluate instructors, results from students are measured with those from other parts of the state or country. This practice is especially common under NCLB, which demands base test scores from every school in the US, forcing many talented teachers to “teach to the test” in order for their schools to avoid sanctions. Most professional organizations of teachers would like to see teachers evaluated along a rubric that also includes classroom visits by inspectors, interviews, reviews of the course material the teacher uses, and other important examinations of the quality of education being offered by that teacher.
Students who participate in high-stakes testing and don't do well may find themselves unable to graduate from high school or to attend a program that they are interested in. For this reason, many parents speak out against the practice, arguing that it is not fair to their children. Many criticisms have been made of standardized tests and the way that they are administered, but perhaps the most important critical claim is that standardized tests do not measure critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and other similar important aspects of intelligence. Students who are perfectly intelligent can perform poorly on standardized tests, and this can have serious consequences for the student as well as his or her school.