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High Stakes Games--as Played by the Washington Post

Ohanian Comment: Should the Washington Post editorialist reveal that the company owns Kaplan, which is profiting mightly through these "High-Stakes Games"?

Just asking.

Also, it doesn't seem appropriate to call a system that ruins the lives of children a "game." It is a destructive corporate-political strategy--with media complicity.

Imagine the motives for commending Virginia for holding firm to its abusive policy.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY, students, teachers and education officials are playing a game of chicken with testing regimes. In an effort to raise standards, both federal legislation -- as embodied in the No Child Left Behind Act -- and many state testing systems threaten to penalize students who can't pass basic tests, along with the schools charged with educating them. After years of preparation, the dates for implementing these high-stakes graduation exams are coming up. Officials have warned that students who fall short won't receive diplomas or, in some cases, promotion to the next grade level. But if thousands of students fail or look as if they might, will authorities blink?

The answer appears to be yes. Last month California postponed implementation of its high-stakes exam for two years. California's 1999 legislation required that 2004's high school seniors pass an exam to graduate. Yet as of January about a third of 2004 seniors had not passed the mathematics portion of California's test, and nearly 20 percent hadn't passed the language arts section. These are students who have supposedly been working to meet standards since before they were in eighth grade.

And California is not alone. Of the states that promised a new regime of accountability, only a handful are on track to meet targets. Many states have made their tests easier. Others have lowered the passing score or delayed phasing them in as a graduation or promotion requirement. Some worry that this might happen in Maryland, where the State Board of Education has just set standards that more than a third of the students who took math and reading tests this year would have failed. By contrast, Virginia is gearing up to enforce results of its tests on the class of 2004. Although some of the requirements have been changed -- critics say "watered down" -- since the launch of the program, the state should be commended for holding fast to the principle of statewide testing.

For Virginia is also proof that high-stakes testing might yield results. Student scores on Virginia's Standards of Learning tests have been improving on a number of fronts since the tests have been administered, and the gap between minority students and others has been narrowing. The proportion of schools meeting state standards in Virginia has risen from 2 percent to 70 percent since 1999, revealing a marked improvement in the curriculum.

Testing is never an end in itself but a measure of other factors -- the commitment of teachers and of school districts, the willingness of students to work harder. But while a test can be a tool to inspire and an indicator of progress, it works only as long as education authorities take it seriously.

— Editorial
High-Stakes Games
Washington Post
August 2003


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