Standardized tests are blunt weapons, but not an ineffective ones. The three real issues with them are 1) we have to be prepared to sacrifice every bit of learning that isn’t on the test and 2) the tests need to reflect the standards perfectly and 3) the standards have to reflect all the essential knowledge that the students need to learn.
It really is that simple. If we’re prepared to accept that the kids will mostly only learn the standards and we trust the people who write the standards to write the right ones, then testing will steadily drive the results (and therefore the learning of the standards) in the right direction.
We can see that in California. Since NCLB came into effect, the aggregate test scores have steadily improved. From 2003 to 2009, 17% more students are testing proficient or better on Math and 15% more are testing proficient or better on English Language Arts (ELA) (California Department of Education, 2010).
Of course, the aggregate numbers are still horrible: only 57% are proficient or better in math and 50% test proficient or better in ELA, up from 41% and 35% respectively in 2003. Maybe that’s a good reason to accept the blunt weapon of standardized testing, the historical alternative was apparently far less effective.