Testing Abuse

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Does what is best for kids = What is best for test scores? by Rog Lucido

CITIES GRAPPLE WITH LOW GRAD RATES….STRENGTH OF SCIENCE… TEACHERS: FUSD HOPES TO BOOST TEST - These headlines have grabbed readers' attention over the past few weeks. As a subtitle to the first- according to a study by America's Promise Alliance, Fresno graduated only 57.4% in 2004. To the second, despite the District claim for students to be scientifically literate, FUSD has eliminated its district science and social science coordinator positions — this was not reported in the Bee nor in Board minutes. To the third, boosting test scores does not mean boosting learning. Rather it condemns students to a narrowed curriculum and low-level thinking skills. In the best of all worlds, students want to learn, teachers want to teach, administrators want to support. Districts strive to provide the necessary resources. How is it that the good intentions and noble dreams of so many become corrupted?
All children do not begin school with equal advantages. Some come healthy and prepared to be successful. Others enter hobbled by limited or even negative experiences: poor nutrition, language skills and vocabulary. Some come from families just struggling to make ends meet. Some wake up each morning wondering if they can walk to and from school without encountering gang entanglements. Learning takes a back seat to survival. According to researcher Robert Marzano, over 80% of the variance in student academic success is determined by outside of school experiences. Only ten to twenty percent of their success is impacted by what is done in the classroom. So how are we taking advantage of this precious classroom time?
Student brains are wired for learning. The brain is a pattern seeker. In short, it wants to know. Parents want their children to love learning. Teachers want them to be lifelong learners. How do our current school policies and practices undermine this? They place the quest for higher test scores above the real goal of education: the development of our children into knowledgeable, responsible, productive adults. The role of parents has been redefined. They are now pressured to prepare their children to be tested while teachers are required to narrow their focus to what will be on the math and Language Arts tests. And worst of all, students see learning as a score and themselves as a proficiency level.
Testing companies, psychological organizations, state and national educational offices declare that the only valid conclusions about what students know and can do must come from multiple sources of evidence- the very types that are found in healthy classrooms like: projects, presentations, reports, experiments, classroom designed assessments, assignments, portfolios, discussions. Many are operating under the illusion that high test scores mean high learning. They don't. There is no corroborating evidence. But, there is significant evidence, most notably the recent study High-Stakes Accountability and the Dropout Crisis that high-stakes tests increase the drop out rate and reduce graduations.

There is nothing in California or NCLB testing requirements that says that you must have additional district testing. We do. Nothing that says that lessons must be scripted so that it is read line by line rather than thoughtfully taught. We do. Nothing that says that lessons must be paced using a chart which directs by minute, hour and day regardless of the rate at which each child learns. We do. No evidence that says that teacher coaches should be hired to attempt to improve student score production. We do. Nothing that says eliminate and/or reduce support for, non-essential, untested, subjects such as science and social studies. We do.

Michigan, Virginia, Arizona and Minnesota are at various stages of legislation to opt out of NCLB. Here in the valley, Lincoln school district has opted out of NCLB saying, "We want to do a better job than we've been able to do and we want to do that by being flexible." FUSD school board or Superintendent has not even made a proclamation regarding the negative impact of high-stakes testing on its students and staff. Joining the chorus of many, a Texas superintendent, Michael Stevens, says, " Could we not reallocate the billions of dollars spent each year spent on testing and allow our wonderful educators to make learning fun, exciting and relevant. Children might actually learn!"