Standardized tests are a part of educational life. In Dougherty County and the surrounding areas, we have had the reality of what happens when such tests determine so many significant issues. Teachers and administrators have incentive to cheat the tests. Even the many teachers who did no such thing have felt the weight of standardized tests.
Today, they teach the test, and it’s been noticed by the New York Times apparently.
My son, who is going into the seventh grade here in Dougherty County, reports that much of the first part of the year is spent reviewing the previous school year. A couple of months are spent teaching new material, followed by even more months of reviewing for the standardized tests that matter so much to teachers (since it affects their pay) and administrators (whose funding is affected).
So, we have a student who is reporting that he gets a couple of months of instruction on new material per year. Really? I wish I could say his experiences were isolated. Speaking with other parents with kids in the Dougherty County School System, they report the same thing. It would be easy to look at the DCSS and lay it all at the feet of the school board and the system administration.
Congress made a sensible decision a decade ago when it required the states to administer yearly tests to public school students in exchange for federal education aid. The theory behind the No Child Left Behind Act was that holding schools accountable for test scores would force them to improve instruction for groups of children whom they had historically shortchanged.
Testing did spur some progress in student performance. But it has become clear to us over time that testing was being overemphasized — and misused — in schools that were substituting test preparation for instruction. Even though test-driven reforms were helpful in the beginning, it is now clear that they will never bring this country’s schools up to par with those of the high-performing nations that have left us far behind in math, science and even literacy instruction.
Congress required the states to give annual math and reading tests in grades three through eight (and once in high school) as a way of ensuring that students were making progress and that minority children were being fairly educated. Schools that did not meet performance targets for two years were labeled as needing improvement and subjected to sanctions. Fearing that they would be labeled poor performers, schools and districts — especially in low-income areas — rolled out a relentless series of “diagnostic” tests that were actually practice rounds for the high-stakes exams to come.
Such is the way when testing becomes such a large part of education, and if the Times isn’t saying it’s due to us backward Southerners, then it clearly is a national issue.
That’s not to say that tests should be done away with, but standardized tests clearly aren’t working as they were intended to. Our kids are becoming very well trained…to take tests. That’s about it.
My son is an A/B student. He had been in the gifted program before letting his grades slip a bit a couple of years ago. He’s a smart kid. He learned about the Boston Tea Party from conversations with myself and my mother. He’s learned more from television and conversations with his family than he’s learned from much of his schooling. We pay a ridiculously high millage rate for property taxes and I am having to educate my child myself just so he’ll learn something?
The era of the standardized test as a metric for determining the educational merit of a school system needs to die. When our children understand more about taking such a test than they do about the nation they live in, there is clearly something wrong. While I may disagree with the Times editorial board about how to address it, we both clearly see the problem.
It’s to bad that Washington, D.C. doesn’t.