|A Sorry But True Tale of Lost Generations of Learners|
Under the W Bush education framework, No Child Left Behind, we used test scores to judge schools. That didn’t work, so now we have Race to the Top, so we use test scores to judge schools and teachers. Explain to me again how this is a step forward.
I have no idea who wrote the letter to an editor. I suspect it was a teacher or a parent. But that matters nil. The testing phenomenon has become the American way. And generations of potentially bright and curious children will see little if any benefit. Just a lot of money spent that could have gone to teaching and learning.
Frustrated by a lack of long-term solutions to improving our schools–without making them a budget priority–W Bush came up with the idea that testing kids was the all-in-one solution. Of course it would prove to be an extraordinarily expensive solution, but one that could be sold to Americans coast to coast.
I am a grade 5/6 teacher. I’m experiencing a situation with our national assessment of literacy and numeracy tests coming up. So much of the important foundational part of the school year is lost to teaching to the tests. You know it’s a problem when your students can read your stress but I guess that’s the situation that arises in a society where there always needs to be someone to “blame”.
Many of our members are/were educators. For them this newsletter will not bring meaning since they have lived the life. Others are parents who worry about the dumbing down of curriculum in order to make corporate test publishers, test scoring services, test curriculum publishers, and test consultants to state education departments and school districts, very rich.
As it turns out, the testing and curriculum publisher is often the same company. And it may very well be that the very same company also is paid to assess the outcomes, reporting the test scores and distributions, train the teachers in teaching to the test, and advising educational systems what they can do with the data.
Did you know? Following the passage of NCLB in 2002, annual state spending on standardized tests rose from $423 million to almost $1.1 billion in 2008 (a 160% increase compared to a 19.22% increase in inflation over the same period), according to the Pew Center on the States.
Sound a bit insidious? There is, after all, a crafty and treacherous relationship between the schools of America and the corporate interests that are increasingly working behind the scenes to control education. This is a huge industry. A highly profitable industry. And an industry that places its bottom-line interests before the needs of students, teachers, and our country’s long-term welfare.
Did you know? The current use of No. 2 pencils on standardized tests is a holdover from the 1930s through the 1960s, when scanning machines scored answer sheets by detecting the electrical conductivity of graphite pencil marks.
On most days one can find a report that brings worry to parents, to students, to graduates, to industry, to government about the continued failure of America’s educational system. Privatization is not limited to changing Medicare to a voucher system. Taking basic elements of our culture private is the new American way. Nowhere has it become more apparent than in schools. Boards and administrators are invested in achieving higher test scores for their districts. This is, in no small way, related to property values. Wonder why so many Board members are realtors or in jobs associated with that real estate?
Okay, I may be meandering a bit. If so, that’s because the issue of bad education reform is so pervasive. And so critical to the future of our children, our seed corn as politicians frequently make reference.
Did you know? The Sacramento Bee reported that “test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it.”
Happily, there may finally be an emerging force to turn this sad situation around. It won’t be easy–but it sure is worth trying. The New York Times had a piece this week–unfortunately relegated to page 16–Advocacy Group to Monitor Reform Efforts in Public Schools.
The issue of education reform deserves far more attention than 1/32 of a page. But at this point, we’ll take what we can get. There has been little, if anything, in mainstream media about the downside of both Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top. While the Obama administration approach is by far the better of the two approaches (it is not built on the model of punishing schools, administrators, teachers, students, and parents), Race to the Top is hardly a solution.
At their cores both programs are built atop test-taking. Raise student scores and all will be happy. That is likely true–for the moment. In the real world and for generations to come, the test-based folly is ruinous. But going up against Bill Gates and his reformist brethren will not be easy. It won’t come cheap.
The Network for Public Education, co-founded by Anthony Cody, a former teacher, will try to bring together parents, teachers and other local interest groups from across the country through social networking. Diane Ravitch, not so long ago a national champion of high-stakes testing, hails NPE for its broad-minded public school curriculums that included arts, sciences, foreign languages and physical education; better financing for schools; more respect for teachers; and the “appropriate use of testing to help students and teachers, not to punish or reward students, teachers, principals, or to close schools.
Did you know about Scantron? From the Scantron Corporation website:
Today, 80% of the largest 100 school districts in the United States use Scantron products. Scantron offers two types of classroom testing solutions: standalone scanning devices and software-based solutions. Scantron Testing Scoring Machines, combined with Scantron Genuine Forms, have been education’s gold standard for automated, reliable classroom test scoring for over 30 years. And, through our Loan Program, schools receive the use of Testing Scoring Machines free of charge.
Gold standard? Not even lead-based standard. The sale of lead-based paint is not permitted because it is known to be harmful to the health of children. Hopefully, test-based schooling will come to be outlawed as well.
Did you know about Pearson? It’s website brags: Pearson is the world’s leading education company, providing educational materials, technologies, assessments and related services to teachers and students of all ages. Though we generate approximately 60% of our sales in North America, we operate in more than 70 countries. We publish across the curriculum under a range of respected imprints including Scott Foresman, Prentice Hall, Addison-Wesley, Allyn and Bacon, Benjamin Cummings and Longman.
We are also a leading provider of electronic learning programmes and of test development, processing and scoring services to educational institutions, corporations and professional bodies around the world.
Why doesn’t government just give Pearson the same anti-trust status enjoyed by pro sports? Unfortunately, they are not the only team in their league so concern of monopoly in the corporate testing sector is spread among a number of companies.
There will continue to be loads of data placing blame on teachers and parents for the failure of students to meet standards. In some cases, this has to be true. But it is not where primary blame needs to be placed. Hopefully, the Network for Public Education will put public back into America’s schools where it needs to be.
More Did You Know?
This section is lengthy. Only read the material if you have no children of your own or do not care about children or our country’s future.
Standardized testing has not improved student achievement. After
NCLB passed in 2002, the US slipped from 18th in the world in math on the
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to 31st place in 2009, with a similar drop in science and no change in reading. A National Research Council
report found no evidence test-based incentive programs are working: “Despite using them for several decades, policymakers and educators do not yet know how to use test-based incentives to consistently generate positive effects on achievement and to improve education.”
Standardized tests are an unreliable measure of student performance. A study published by the Brookings Institution found that 50-80% of year-over-year test score improvements were temporary and “caused by fluctuations that had nothing to do with long-term changes in learning…”
Standardized tests are unfair and discriminatory, because students with diverse backgrounds and skill levels are expected to answer questions written for the white, abled majority. English language learners take tests in English before they have mastered the language. Special education students take the same tests as other children, receiving few of the accommodations usually provided to them as part of their Individualized Education Plans (IEP).
Standardized tests measure only a small portion of what makes education meaningful. According to late education researcher Gerald W. Bracey, PhD, qualities that standardized tests cannot measure include “creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, honesty, integrity.”
“Teaching to the test” is replacing good teaching practices with “drill n’ kill” rote learning. A five-year University of Maryland study completed in 2007 found “the pressure teachers were feeling to ‘teach to the test’” since NCLB was leading to “declines in teaching higher-order thinking, in the amount of time spent on complex assignments, and in the actual amount of high cognitive content in the curriculum.”
NCLB tests are drastically narrowing the curriculum. A national study by the Center on Education Policy reported that since 2001, 44% of school districts had reduced the time spent on science, social studies and the arts by an average of 145 minutes per week in order to focus on reading and math. A 2007 survey of 1,250 civics, government, and social studies teachers showed that 75% of those teaching current events less often cited standardized tests as the reason.
Instruction time is being consumed by monotonous test preparation. Some schools allocate more than a quarter of the year’s instruction to test prep. [Kozol] After New York City’s reading and math scores plunged in 2010, many schools imposed extra measures to avoid being shut down, including daily two and a half hour prep sessions and test practice on vacation days. In 2002, students at Monterey High School in Lubbock, TX, were prevented from discussing the first anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks because they were too busy with standardized test preparation.
Standardized tests are not objective. A paper published in the Fall 2002 edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Resources stated that scores vary due to subjective decisions made during test design and administration: “Simply changing the relative weight of algebra and geometry in NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Progress) altered the gap between black and white students.”
Standardized testing causes severe stress in younger students. According to education researcher Gregory J. Cizek, anecdotes abound “illustrating how testing… produces gripping anxiety in even the brightest students, and makes young children vomit or cry, or both.” On The Sacramento Bee reported that “test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it.”
Older students do not take NCLB-mandated standardized tests seriously because they do not affect their grades. An English teacher at New Mexico’s Valley High School said in Aug. 2004 that many juniors just “had fun” with the tests, making patterns when filling in the answer bubbles: “Christmas tree designs were popular. So were battleships and hearts.”
Testing is expensive and costs have increased since NCLB, placing a burden on state education budgets. According to the Texas Education Agency, the state spent $9 million in 2003 to test students, while the cost to Texas taxpayers from 2009 through 2012 is projected to be around $88 million per year.
The billion dollar testing industry is notorious for making costly and time-consuming scoring errors. NCS Pearson, which has a $254 million contract to administer Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test, delivered the 2010 results more than a month late and their accuracy was challenged by over half the state’s superintendents. After errors and distribution problems in 2004-2005, Hawaii replaced test publisher Harcourt with American Institutes for Research, but the latter had to re-grade 98,000 tests after students received scores for submitting blank test booklets.
The multiple-choice format used on standardized tests is an inadequate assessment tool. It encourages a simplistic way of thinking in which there are only right and wrong answers, which doesn’t apply in real-world situations. The format is also biased toward male students, who studies have shown adapt more easily to the game-like point scoring of multiple-choice questions.
America is facing a “creativity crisis,” with testing and rote learning “dumbing down” the nation’s schools and jeopardizing the country’s economic future. A 2010 College of William & Mary study found Americans’ scores on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking have been dropping since 1990, and researcher Kyung-Hee Kim lays part of the blame on the increase in standardized testing: “If we neglect creative students in school because of the structure and the testing movement… then they become underachievers.”
Excessive testing teaches children to be good at taking tests, but does not prepare them for productive adult lives. China displaced Finland at the top of the 2009 PISA rankings because, as explained by Jiang Xueqin, Deputy Principal of Peking University High School, “Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests. For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.” China is trying to depart from the “drill and kill” test prep that Chinese educators admit has produced only “competent mediocrity.”
Using test scores to reward and punish teachers and schools encourages cheating. A 2011 USA Today investigation of six states and Washington DC found 1,610 suspicious anomalies in year-over-year test score gains.
Open-ended questions on standardized tests are often graded by under-paid temporary workers with no educational training. Scorers make $11-$13 per hour and need only a bachelor’s degree, not necessarily related to education. As one former test scorer stated, “all it takes to become a test scorer is a bachelor’s degree, a lack of a steady job, and a willingness to throw independent thinking out the window…”
An obsession with testing robs children of their childhoods. NCLB’s mandate begins in third grade, but schools test younger students so they will get used to taking tests. A 2009 research from the Alliance for Childhood showed “time for play in most public kindergartens has dwindled to the vanishing point, replaced by lengthy lessons and standardized testing.”A three-year study completed in Oct. 2010 by the Gesell Institute of Human Development showed that increased emphasis on testing is making “children feel like failures now as early as PreK…”
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