Overemphasis on testing while dangling money recipe for disaster in schools
Kudos for a school board candidate for taking on these issues.
by Teri Pinney
It's a given. Since 2001, No Child Left Behind legislation has turned America's public schools into test-prep academies. Millions of dollars have been spent on test-prep programs. Testing departments, manned by highly-paid Ph.D.s, are popping up in school districts across the country. Vast proportion of budget allocations have gone toward the hiring of specialized consultants who swoop onto campuses to teach teachers how to raise test scores.
In Florida, we took it a step further. We slapped a letter grade onto schools that produced improved test results and applauded the "A" schools. Administrators of the Ã¢DÃ¢ and "F" schools gave the obligatory excuses, vowing to turn that around.
Students take quarterly benchmark tests in St. Lucie County. They also take the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading three to four times a school year. Then there's the annual FCAT Writes, Reading, Math, and Science tests. Add to these the weekly quizzes and quarterly tests given in classes to cover the curriculum. And in high school, there's the development of a standardized exam to be given at the end of every semester.
We pride ourselves on the data that we've collected and how we can use it for diagnosis. However, it's pretty obvious Ã¢ our students are overwhelmed with tests. But wait, there's more to come.
Enter "Race to the Top." The Obama administration says it wants to promote innovation and excellence in America's public schools. How? By issuing a challenge to all school districts to embrace reform initiatives, which involve "improved testing" and using test data to "drive instruction," and "revising teacher evaluation" to reward according to student achievement (White House Fact Sheet, November 2009).
First of all, I take exception to the term: "Race to the Top." It denotes a racetrack mentality, a competitive gaming system. Who are we competing against? Other schools; other states. What's the winning prize? Millions of dollars (it actually amounts to less than $50 per student).
Let's remember that in every race there are winners, but there are also losers. Hurray for the kids who are the winners, but what about those who will be depicted as losers? Those that do not do well on the standardized tests?
There's a serious mistake of perpetuating the stigma that exists among the high-risk, poverty laden schools.
Don't get me wrong. I am the first person to say that student assessment is a vital means of monitoring learning progress. From this, we use the data to target areas of needed improvement. But to give dollar awards based on results? And can we honestly say that test scores are an adequate measurement of teacher competence?
We want to reward the "good teacher." Well, what exactly is a "good teacher" and how do you measure that? How do you determine whether Mrs. Omega with a class of low-achieving, troubled kids is any less of a teacher than Mrs. Alpha with a class of honors, college-bound students? How do you measure a PE teacher's ability to raise reading scores? What about the music teacher being held to science scores?
We all want the best education for our children. Will this come through increased testing? Where did the joy of learning and the passion for teaching go? Accountability and assessment is good, but overemphasis on testing while dangling money as the prize is not.
Pinney, a former public school administrator and resident of Port St. Lucie, is a candidate for St. Lucie County School Board.
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