Testing Abuse

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Learning From the Past

Education today is certainly not what it was years ago. Although some would argue that it may be worse, there are many elements that, in fact, are much better. The days of the one-room school house are gone and the times of children dropping out in the primary grades to work for their family’s survival are no longer existent. Teachers right now are better prepared than they have ever been. Future teachers must have four year college degree, along with 1-2 extra years in a credential program. They are trained to use high level technology in the classrooms, when school sites have it, and it is allowed. They are required to take the RICA and CSET tests, one which tests knowledge of how to teach reading, while the other demands an overall mastery of all curricular areas for multiple subject instructors. Even then, young teachers must go through two years of BTSA, a beginning support program that guides them under the tutelage of an experienced teacher. How is it, then, that corporate interests continually barrage the education community with statements that teachers are not prepared and are not doing a good job? If anything the bright, new, energetic future of teaching in America has been thrown under a bus called NCLB. This has stymied creativity in lesson planning and has forced children to learn in a box that allows very little original thought and insight.

The No Child Left Behind act, a federal law that is up for reauthorization, has been rife with both tangible and intangible damage to our student population. In a research report done by the University of Chicago, named “Left Behind By Design”, the authors strongly state that the NCLB law has forced schools to focus on the nearly proficient, or “bubble” kids. As a result, the most gifted and most poverty stricken students have shown a significant drop in overall achievement since NCLB’s inception. The law’s original intent was to assure that ALL students receive equal treatment, but with the over-reliance on standardized test scores, high quality, meaningful lessons have been squelched in favor of test prep and drill and kill lessons. Thus, many children have been left in the lurch. The National Research Council, in their report “Lessons Learned About Testing” states that “test scores are not perfect measures: they must be considered with other sources of information when making important decisions about individuals and schools”. Yet, so many administrators, business folk, and politicians have failed to realize this basic flaw.

Many teachers have experienced the negative impacts of NCLB in the classroom. Children being physically sick and depressed because of the stress of continual assessments being used to gauge how they will “perform” on the California STAR, is one of the most common observations. Also, the continual droning focus on math and reading, with little else, has drained the spark of learning from many students. Some schools have either cut back, or completely eliminated recess to increase instructional time. This has resulted in higher levels of student aggression and discipline at even the lowest grade levels. It does not take a brain surgeon to point to the fact that these are children, not robots. Children have physical and emotional needs that must be met through the social processes of play .

One current draft of the NCLB reauthorization states that teachers will be judged and paid by test score results. If this passes, the afore mentioned unhealthy elements will be significantly increased. With so much evidence showing that test scores prove very little about what students know and are able to do, how can so much weight be put on them? The National Academy of Sciences has warned against using scores as the only measure of achievement. Varying types of assessments, including portfolios and performance tests must be considered. The integrity of the teaching profession will be compromised, and its duty to help all children learn will be cast into continuous speculation over what a teacher’s real motivation is.

The education of the past teaches us that human beings should be recognized as universal learners with a passion for discovery. Contact your local representatives, superintendents, and school boards to demand a change in policy. Multiple sources of evidence must be used to determine student mastery, and the funding for the research and creation of multitiered assessments which demonstrate a student’s complete knowledge must be guaranteed. Sometimes common sense is just what we need.