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NCLB Outrages

Bad Mistake in Testing Academic Skills

Ohanian Comment: Testing is a double-edged sword. The editorialist is right that writing and social studies will be devalued as schools respond to the hype about reading, math, and science tests. But the real problem is the testing mania, not the fact that we should have two more

The editorialist assumes you know something important when you know test scores. THAT'S the worst mistake.

Next year in Illinois, the three R's will become two, at least in terms of testing.

Writing won't be included in the battery of standardized tests that will be given in the spring to monitor progress in the classroom. Nor will social studies. That's because funding for the tests was cut from the state budget last July by state legislators and Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

It's hard to fathom progress in two subject areas so important in a democracy being excluded from standardized review. The ability to understand the basic workings of a democratic society, accomplished through social studies, and the ability to express oneself within that free society, accomplished through mastery of the written word, should not be exempt from strict, mandatory evaluation.

Left intact in the testing regimen is the charting of progress in math, science and reading. This will bring the state in line with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under this law, school districts whose students fail to score well in these subject areas could face severe consequences. This includes being forced to offer students transfers to higher-performing schools.

Yet progress in writing and social studies will be absent from the data used to determine a school district's academic standing. Schools across the state will have no standard way to continue charting their progress in these subject areas or to compare and contrast their progress with that of like districts. Schools - and parents - need this.

Until and unless testing in writing and social studies is restored, a concern is that some districts might now consider de-emphasizing social studies and writing to concentrate more on those subject areas given greater weight by the daunting No Child Left Behind law. Certainly there is that temptation to teach to the tests that hold them most accountable.

But such a conclusion makes the assumption that teachers won't care about their students doing their absolute best in writing and social studies if they don't have to fret standardized test results. That's an unflattering view of dedicated teachers, to say the least.

Just as the state will continue to have high expectations in writing and social studies in terms of meeting learning standards, many administrators and teachers fully recognize that writing and social studies are as important as math, science and reading and will continue to teach and evaluate accordingly.

That is reflected in the angry reaction by some teachers to the changes in the testing routine. It is also reflected in plans being made by local educators to find other common means of gauging students' progress in writing and social studies. One example is in Kane County, where educators are considering a countywide writing program. One of the goals is to develop consistency in evaluating writing.

Still, at a time when the cry for accountability to educational excellence has never been louder, the elimination of mandatory, standardized writing and social studies tests makes little sense.

— Editorial
(Illinois) Daily Herald


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