Monday, August 09, 2004
We Have To Test....
That seems to be the new standard response to any who question or challenge the notion of standardized national testing of grade school children. And while Kerry has suggested some additional approaches - better funding, training, and testing for teachers, and looking beyond the test when evaluating the performance of kids - these suggestions are not innovative, nor are they likely to either receive the type of funding or implementation that would actually result in improvement.
The biggest complaint about standardized tests - and it is valid - is that schools teach to the test. In some cases, teachers have even been shown to have obtained the test in advance and to have literally taught from it. This used to be the biggest problem in "failing schools", where school administrators and teachers assumed that too many kids would fail or do poorly if they focused on teaching their subjects rather than transforming the school into a test preparation center. But with "No Child Left Behind", even a good school can be defined as "failing" based upon whether or not its standardized test scores "improve" from year to year.
The biggest failing of "No Child Left Behind" is probably its focus on rote learning. It seems that the Bush Administration defines "reading" as "being able to decode words on a page", and "learning" as "being able to recite lessons taught in class". Schools which want to teach broader language skills and critical thinking can suffer as their kids, who will be far more capable thinkers in the future, compete against kids who have spent a school year focused primarily on standardized test performance.
So what to do.... Here's one that will make school administrators and teachers who are gaming the system blanche: Give the test at the start of the new school year, rather than during the course of the prior school year. Give the teachers a couple of weeks to bring the kids back up to speed from their near-inevitable summer backsliding, then administer the test. Kids who really learned their lessons the year before will do well. And that's what the testing is really supposed to measure.