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High-stakes Tests Judge Students and Schools

Welcome to Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) testing season in Michigan, where the stress level is high, spirits are low, the pressure is on, and the benefits to children are questionable.

MEAP season is critically important to public schools in Michigan as it is the one and only opportunity they will have this year to prove that their students are making enough progress to avoid the negative consequences of the No Child Left Behind law and to escape being labeled a failure by the federal government.

The stakes are high -- one yearly roll of the testing dice determines whether students and teachers are considered successful, whether a district will receive enough government resources to operate, whether children and staff will be moved to other schools, whether schools will even be allowed to remain open.

As a result of No Child Left Behind with its over reliance on yearly high-stakes testing, every state must administer a test such as the MEAP. These tests are estimated to cost between $1.9 billion and $5.3 billion between 2002-2008 in a time when schools are cutting programs, staff and supplies to make ends meet.

Even more than the dollar costs attached to high stakes tests are the enormous costs to our children from an educational standpoint.

In research conducted by David Berliner of Arizona State University, it was found that as a result of the enormous pressure on schools to produce good results on high-stakes tests, dropout rates have increased, graduation rates have decreased, higher numbers of low-performing students are being suspended before test days (so their low scores won't affect the school), curriculum is being narrowed to only those things being tested, student cheating is on the rise, the number of students placed in special education just prior to the yearly testing periods has risen, and the list goes on.

Surveys of teachers show that the stress level around tests is so high that many are choosing to leave the profession. Surveys of parents and students indicate that children, too, feel stress during test season.

In fact, in Minnesota, schools have actually had to hire psychologists to deal with students' test anxiety at this time of year.

Interestingly enough, with so much emphasis placed on high-stakes test scores, a recent survey of parents in Michigan by EPIC-MRA showed that only 5 percent of them even know what the MEAP test is designed for. Additionally, only 1 percent of the parents surveyed believe their child's MEAP score is an important indicator of whether he or she is getting a good education, and only one in five say their child's test results will ever be used to help him or her improve in school.

This is not surprising considering that oftentimes teachers do not get the test results back in enough time prior to the start of summer vacation to help their students.

What's a responsible taxpayer concerned about the education of our children to do? Go back to school and learn about No Child Left Behind. Learn all you can about the law that is the driving force behind the public school system in this country.

Recognize that a one-size approach to education does not fit all. Children do not achieve at the same level, in the same manner, at the same time. Nor does one test, administered once per year, adequately or accurately measure all that a child achieves during a school year.

Well-constructed, high-stakes tests should only be one measure of a child's success or failure, likewise the school he or she attends. No Child Left Behind ignores the fact that every child is different and learns differently. Teachers know this, parents know this, even children know this. Why don't our legislators know? Maybe it's because we aren't doing a very good job of educating them.

One test, administered once per year, (does not) adequately or accurately measure all that a child achieves during a school year.

Teri Moblo is director of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice in Lansing. Send letters to Detroit News,Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226, (313) 222-6417 or letters@detnews.com.

— Teri Moblo
Detroit News


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