Thursday, July 7, 2011

Unprecedented testing madness

"All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting." -- President Obama
It's been denounced by educators far and wide. Education research has approached a consensus on its negative effects, especially on poor kids and children of color. President Obama has repeatedly criticized it.  The world's highest performing school systems discard it.

In February 2009, Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall was named 2009 Superintendent of the Year in San Francisco. Ms. Hall stepped down from her post on June 30, days before the release of a report that documented widespread cheating by teachers and administrators in the 55,000-student Atlanta Public School District.
Paul Sakuma / AP / File
Yet the nation's standardized testing madness, sanctioned under No Child Left Behind law, continues to expand at an unprecedented pace, leaving in its wake a badly weakened American public school system rocked by cheating scandals, most recently in D.C., Baltimore and Atlanta, and marked by school "failure" and what amounts to virtual widespread child abuse as it spreads down to younger and younger children.

This and the previous administration's testing policies which increasingly tie student test scores to rewards and punishments, to school closings, teacher firings and so-called "merit pay," have actually served to incentivize cheating and de-professionalize teaching.

Now comes word that the next round of Race To The Top, Arne Duncan's version of NCLB, will mandate state grant winners to expand standardized testing down to Pre-K, to "develop and administer kindergarten-readiness tests, and develop rating systems for early-education programs."

What's next? Testing 'em in the womb to see if they are life-ready?


While lining the pockets of scandal-ridden testing companies like Kaplan, the current testing madness is a budget buster for local school districts, diverting hundreds of million of  badly-needed dollars away from classroom teaching. Something's got to give and here in Chicago, where the tests increasingly drive curriculum --  it's writing.

Yes, the writing exam part of the Illinois test has now been eliminated in order to save the near-bankrupt state about $2.4 million. The savings come in, because the writing test actually requires humans (as opposed to Scantron machines) to spend time reading and evaluating student writing samples.

While there may be nothing more insipid that standardizing student writing, educators fear that the dropping of writing from the state test will lead to a devaluing of the teaching of writing as part of the curriculum.
"Good teachers, good schools, good principals don't need a test," said Barbara Kato, director of the Chicago Area Writing Project. "But the problem is, without the test, the focus on writing as a whole ends up taking a back seat." -- Tribune

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