FairTest was founded in 1985 by leaders of civil rights and education groups to advance their view that the misuse, overuse and flaws of standardized testing practices may be detrimental to academic achievement and equal opportunity. FairTest has directed campaigns against perceived over-reliance on standardized tests, while advocating for alternatives that they claim may enhance equity and quality in education. FairTest provides related information to the public and policymakers, organizes collaborative assessment reform alliances, and provides training and support to parents, students, educators, civil rights and community organizations. The group focuses on testing in the public schools (K-12) and university admissions. Its efforts have a national focus, such as on federal testing requirements and college admissions tests (e.g., SAT and ACT), while also working with state and local testing reform activists.
FairTest also explores kindergarten through 12th-grade assessment issues. It educates the public on their interpretation that there are negative consequences of high-stakes testing and advocates alternatives of assessing students and providing accountability. It also works to remove state and local policies that require students to pass a standardized test (one where all students take the test under reasonably similar conditions) to graduate or be promoted to the next grade. It also has many materials on alternative performance assessments and their uses for teaching and school improvement.
FairTest's current focus is reforming the federal No Child Left Behind law to make it an effective tool for school improvement, and mobilizing those who oppose the current version of NCLB to advocate for a better law. In January 2012, FairTest released a report detailing its claim that NCLB was a failure.
Beginning in 2004, FairTest brought together more than 128 national education, civil rights, religious, disability and civic organizations to endorse a Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB. Out of the Joint Statement came a working group called the Forum on Educational Accountability, which developed recommendations for a new federal law that would:
In 2009, FairTest created an annual award to acknowledge educational leaders who have strongly advocated for principles shared by FairTest. The award is named the "Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award." Recipients include Deborah Meier. Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Michelle Fine, Karen Lewis (labor leader), Leon Botstein, Lani Guinier and Nancy Carlsson-Paige.
FairTest alleges that a standardized test (all students take the same test under the same conditions) such as the SAT or ACT "consistently under-predicts the performance of women, African-Americans, people whose first language isn't English and generally anyone who's not a good test-taker." Fairtest maintains a list of nearly 850 SAT optional schools.
FairTest also works to stop misuses of standardized admissions exams, such as the national merit scholarships, which it alleges create unfair barriers to equal opportunity and educational quality by relying on test scores to award millions of dollars in tuition aid.
In 2004, the College Board, owners of the SAT, asked FairTest to remove a detailed analysis of performance on standardized tests by race, income and sex. FairTest refused, and the College Board backed down claiming that an intern had written the threatening letter without authorization.
Conservative bloggers have launched an attack on FairTest claiming that the alleged lack of credentials, alleged false claims, and alleged political connections of those who run the organization; the unnamed sources of funding, and the organization's tax returns have all raised questions.. "[T]est-optional policies at colleges and universities lead[ing] to artificially inflated average SAT scores among incoming freshmen, ... which is fueled in large part by FairTest political activists, ... provides sufficient reason for media and academic organizations to reassess their reliance on FairTest and other political organizations for meaningful input in the college admissions debate."
2019 college admissions bribery scandal, cheating on SAT and ACT tests