Testing Abuse

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Student Rights Crushed By Testing Crisis

One April evening, a husband and wife sat down at the table to talk about the day’s events.

“Oh, by the way did you see that letter in the mail today from the school?” the husband asked.

“Yeah. That’s the third one this month. Every one of them says the same type of thing. You know, ‘make sure your child eats’, ‘make sure they get enough rest’, and ‘have them focused for the test’ “, she responded.

“You know, it was never like this before they changed the law so Jessie’s scores were helping the teacher’s salary. She doesn’t even want to go to school anymore. She says it’s like a sweatshop that repeats the same type of work every day,” the wife complained.

“Well, I don’t like it. Who’s really doing the work here? I don’t like the idea of her school effort making his pay day. She’s there to learn, not be an employee,” the husband grumbled.

Every parent needs to ask themselves about whether they want to experience the above scenario on a regular basis, because it is likely to happen in the near future. The latest education charge, President Obama’s “Race to the Top”, is electric because it requires one to think about the new funds generated by the federal government to reward ‘innovative’ ways of judging teacher performance in schools, primarily on high stakes test scores of their students. $4.35 billion has been promised to states that comply with this proposed concept. For example, if California gets a likely 10% share, $500 million would be in its clutches, but half could be held by the governor for other purposes. Divide the remainder by 6.1 million school children in the state, you get forty one bucks per kid to 'race' with. The one-time money offer is not so enticing after breaking it down, yet some believe that this is the right road to take. It is not worth the casualties.

First off, if a child is given work or assessments to do in the classroom that will eventually determine the income of a teaching professional, that student is providing the catalyst for the pay. This breaches the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, which states that sixteen is the basic minimum age for employment. It also says, that when young people work, the work cannot jeopardize their “health, well-being, or educational opportunities.” With the current proposal, these will all be trampled on. Many instances of sickness and psychological problems from high stakes testing have been documented from the Alliance for Childhood. Rice University conducted a study that revealed an increase in drop outs as a result of high stakes tests. The increase in pressure on these students to legitimize a teacher’s salary will be unbearable.

Secondly, student rights must be acknowledged. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that, “An educational agency or institution must use reasonable methods to ensure that school officials obtain access to only those education records in which they have legitimate educational interests. An educational agency or institution that does not use physical or technological access controls must ensure ... that it remains in compliance with the legitimate educational interest.” The key here in the law is ‘legitimate educational interest’. Tying test scores to teacher pay has nothing to do with educational interests of the student. These student rights protect the academic history of children for the purposes of individual instructional planning. Using student scores for teacher compensation is thus unlawful. People must acknowledge that education is about creating citizens by developing the human mind, body, and spirit to be beneficial in our society. Obama's proposal clearly ignores this ideal.

In a July L.A. Times article regarding the ‘Race to the Top’, President Obama stated, “This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group”. I beg to differ. The interest group that will be affected by this the most are children, and they do have a voice in all of this. While pay checks will be doled out on the backs of kids in this ‘competition’, the love of learning will be lost, and the desire to be treated as a full human being will grow desperately. The ‘Race’ money on the tree in the center of the Garden of Eden may look appealing, but we need to beware of the poison that it holds for our youth.