(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
Schools across the United States, under pressure from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, began taking more practice tests to prepare for the high stakes standardized exams.
Then in a constant battle to stay one step ahead of the competition (neighboring school districts) schools began taking practice tests to practice for the practice tests that serve as preparation for the standardized tests.
Even that is not enough as the pressure to succeed mounts. Soon, since reading and math are the only areas covered by No Child Left Behind, elementary schools began eliminating science and social studies; they reduced the time allotted for art and music classes, and recess suddenly became an unnecessary frill that gets in the way of what is really important at school- scoring at a proficient level on standardized tests.
The last three paragraphs sound like the stuff of satire, but sadly, that is what American public schools are becoming in the 21st century.
Time that has been spent engaging students in the past is now being spent teaching them test-taking tricks, tricks that will not help them in any way when they enter the adult world, but may help them garner an extra percentage point or two on these all-important standardized tests.
And what has this unholy emphasis on high stakes testing done to American students? Ironically, a new study indicates it is causing more and more children to be left behind.
Test, Punish, and Push Out, How Zero Tolerance and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School to Prison Pipeline makes a convincing case that the test-crazed culture of 21st century schools has stripped American public school students of the one thing that guarantees they will become lifelong learners- engagement in the learning process.
As an eighth grade teacher, I have listened for the past few years to the frustrations of students who are so overtested that they no longer see anything special about tests. Schools have gone from one practice standardized test in the fall which is designed to let teachers know their students’ weaknesses to prepare them for the spring state test to monthly practice tests and weekly tests to prepare students to do well on those practice tests. In many schools, students who do not score well on these practice tests, have to take yet more practice tests so they will do better next time.
And to help make those practice tests scores shoot to the top, other days are spent drilling on test-taking skills.
The report includes this passage:
“Perhaps more important is the damage done by high-stakes testing to the student experience in school. Not only do formulaic, test-driven reforms neglect the important role
schools have to play in helping students become well-rounded citizens, they also turn school into a much less engaging, and even hostile, place for youth by eliminating the components of education they find most interesting.
“Additionally, the emphasis placed on test results above all other priorities has an alienating and dehumanizing effect on young people, who resent being viewed and treated as little more than test scores.
“The effects can accumulate even more when additional consequences are attached to the tests. For example, there is a long record of research demonstrating the consistent
association of high-stakes exit exams with decreased graduation rates and increased dropout rates.”
Hopefully, events of the past week will start a movement in another direction. The Obama Administration will recommend the removal of the ridiculous requirement of the original No Child Left Behind that 100 percent of all students score at proficient levels in math and reading by 2014. That was never anything but a recipe for public schools to fail. In Missouri, for example, proficient generally rounds out to about a B average. How realistic is it for 100 percent of students to have a grade of B or above?
A C grade is considered average. How can anyone realistically expect all students to be above average?
The new goal, according to published reports, is for all students to graduate from high school college-ready or career-ready. That is much more realistic. The first step toward reaching that goal is to stop this test-taking frenzy and restore the standardized test to its previous standing- as one weapon in our educational arsenal.
Until we do that, we will continue to see a growing number of children left behind.