Standardized Tests Blow

Image via iStockPhoto/Uyen Le

The whole country just finished their Standardized Tests. If you’re a parent you know that the entire school year has been hijacked by making sure kids pass these tests. It’s legislation called No Child Left Behind and was the major education reformation of George II.

The test had a number of consequences — some good, some bad. The good part was that it created a national tracking system that allowed us to get some idea of who was learning what. Prior to No Child Left Behind schools and districts were using their own tracking system or no tracking system at all.

The bad part is that it took a lot of creativity out of the classroom, substituted rote memorization for actual learning and put a ton of pressure on school boards, principals, teachers, parents and students.

In other words, the Standardized Test became the central focus of education. Instead of giving our kids the experience of actual learning through creativity, it substituted artificial learning for an organic, authentic education. It made kids conform to a “cookie cutter” education. It also increased Title 1 participation, because if your kid was diagnosed with autism, ADD, dyslexia or a variety of other issues, their test scores are counted, but they get special tutors, services and accommodations in order to ensure that their test scores improve. Which if you’re a parent, you want your kid to have the best education and performance possible, and if you’re on the faculty you NEED these kids to perform well. In other words, it is likely that No Child Left Behind actually increased the number of kids with a diagnosis.

Another downside is that it really isn’t appropriate for schools and the public education system to bear the burden of making sure kids learn well when it is obvious that there are other factors at play. Time Magazine‘s article “Why It’s Time to Replace No Child Left Behind” points out that there actually are children left behind and they are the same children that were being left behind before this supposed magical reform of America’s education. While middle-class and upper-class kids have improved their scores and do well, poor and minority children still lag behind.

Part of this is the way we fund education in this country. If you live in a rich community there are dollars to spare for education through higher property taxes or at least property taxes on more expensive homes, which equates to more education money. Money buys better technology, safer classrooms and halls, better faculty, better and more extra-curricular activities, more educational resources — in other words, a far better education. If you live in a poor one — you’re screwed. Education isn’t equal in this country and it never will be unless we reform how we fund the education of our students. One solution is to distribute dollars equally through gambling or lotteries as Nevada and a few other states do. Another is to fund education entirely by the state property taxes which go to the state school board, as opposed to the local one, and let the state distribute funds equitably regardless of the income of certain neighborhoods and parts of town. For obvious reasons upper- to middle-class communities will likely oppose this, because hey, their kids get a great education.

But money is not the major issue here, as New Jersey schools show quite clearly. New Jersey spends far more per student than the national average and they have far more failing schools and failing students.

Yes, yes, fire the sucky teachers, sucky administrations, etc. You’ve heard it all before as the big solution to education’s problem. God bless the teachers who are willing to go into these failing schools, stick their feet into quick sand and fight the battle for these kids. Certainly, moving away from a failing school and students who don’t score well would be most prudent for their careers. Unless, of course, you choose to believe that all teachers who enter these institutions couldn’t get a job elsewhere and don’t care at all about their students, only their retirement. Which, I think is pretty far fetched.

What I don’t understand is why schools are being held accountable for the factors that have nothing to do with education at all — communities that are drug-infested nightmarish nests of violence or the culture of certain communities that don’t value education at all. It seems absurd to me that we expect schools to overcome these obstacles, in fact, it’s absurd to assume that schools have any responsibility to change the consequences of these environments for these kids. It’s simply not their job.

For the most part, I haven’t had a serious problem with Standardized Testing. Probably because my daughter Ainsley performs well on them and I have no reason to believe that my son Zack won’t perform well, too. My problem this year was the way Standardized Testing is being delivered to students. Ainsley sobbed that she went over and over her writing essay and didn’t finish the last sentence. It was confounding to me.

I didn’t finish the last sentence, now I won’t get my candy bar and I won’t get a good score!

You’re a better writer than most people in your class, how will they even know you planned to add one more sentence at the end? I’m sure your score will be above average. If not, it’s not a big deal. Everybody bombs a test now and then.

No, my teacher saw me not finish when she called time.

Your teacher isn’t grading the test.

My grade is going to go down.

This test doesn’t effect your grade at all!

What? It’s practically my WHOLE grade.

It’s NONE of your grade. They aren’t grading you with this test, they are grading your school, your teachers, your principal. If you don’t score high on the test then they take money away from your school.

No it’s not. It’s a big part of our grade, the teachers said it was really, really important that we do our very best on the test.

Yeah, because they need the money and they want to keep their jobs. Not because it effects your grade.

Well, I don’t want my teacher to be fired either!

People, my daughter didn’t believe me at all. My neighbor’s daughter didn’t believe her mother either. These are high performing students who work hard and care about their grades and their performance on tests. The school bribed the children with candy bars of their choice every week if they showed up, finished the section and tried their mightiest to score as high as possible. They told, or at least implied, students that this test would be a major part of their grades. Good God, the emotional trauma this testing has inflicted on faculty, school boards, parents and children should be enough to motivate us to think of a better method.

As Americans we’re supposed to be innovative. This isn’t innovative at all, it reduces a real education to a factory line. We’re not going to be more effective in the global marketplace with this stunted growth. Genius is born of creativity and the guts to make million mistakes before success. Intelligence is born exploration. Things do not not get invented by the people who have excellent scores on Standardized Tests, things are invented and discovered by curious people who daydream a lot. The people who ask, “What if this is possible?”

Surely, we can think of something more . . . creative. Surely, we can dream a bigger dream for our kids, for our futures.

  • Oh boy! Don’t get me started! My daughter, in her junior year of HS just finished “star” testing and even though she has a 4+ gpa – in some classes she never learned the material that was on the test – so now if she scores lower than a 4 on ANY part of the test she will not be allowed to leave campus for lunch during her senior year. REALLY? She’s ranked in the top 3% of her 500 student class and you’ll punish her for the school’s failure? I feel a blog post coming on!

    What is the solution? In my daughter’s school her AP US history teacher is so bad that she’s having to teach herself a years’ worth of material before May 11th. Cash strapped California schools can’t seem to retain enough good teachers.

    One more year… At least that was her last standardized test in her k-12 experience.

  • Tracy,

    I felt much the same when I realized that my daughter, who went over and over her essay to make it perfect might score lower, and be penalized with administration withholding bribery candy bars and class parties, for trying harder and writing better than kids who just whipped through and wrote poorly – but hey, they finished the last sentence.

    I am also worried that not finishing the last sentence might interfere with her writing placement next year, even though she’s one of the top writers of her class.

    We’ve got to be innovative in education to get innovative citizens.

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