Testing leaves children behind

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 26, 2005

Students in Suffolk and throughout Virginia – and likely throughout the country – are struggling this week through a series of standardized tests designed to….well, we’re not really sure what they are designed to do other than strain local budgets, shortchange students on a well-rounded education, and generate huge profits for testing companies.

About all one can really gauge from standardized testing is how well a student takes a test and how well a teacher prepared a class for a test – hardly key indicators of success in life.

The testing is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and similar state acts which are deeply flawed. These acts are built around the use of standardized tests. NCLB promises that by 2014, gaps in test scores between middle-class suburban students and under-funded inner-city or rural schools will be closed.

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But about all that is really happening is local school districts are being slapped with a bunch of unfunded federal mandates. The National Education Association (NEA) recently filed a lawsuit against NCLB, charging that because of a lack of promised funding, states and school districts have to try to comply with impossible demands. School districts are required to implement curriculum, structure and restructure programs, and hire or lay off employees.

Funding for NCLB has fallen an estimated $27 billion short since its inception. State and local governments have had to make up the difference, straining their budgets to the limit. (And many in Suffolk wonder why the tax rate can’t be reduced.) As a result the state governments of Michigan, Texas and Vermont are protesting the law and participating in the lawsuit. Virginia should, too.

A common joke among the educational community is: &uot;Republicans won’t fund No Child Left Behind, and Democrats say they will. We don’t know which is worse.&uot; The point is that there’s no reason to believe that NCLB, even if it were fully funded, would really improve the educational system.

One reason for this is that NCLB forces teachers to &uot;teach to the test.&uot; Math and reading are the most-tested areas-so social studies, science, art and music, are shoved to the side. Cutting the arts or history to make way for increased test preparation will likely improve a student’s test scores, but does little for the students themselves and in the long run is likely detrimental to their intellectual development.

It could be that the goal of NCLB is not really to lift student scores, but to line the pockets of those in the testing industry. Testing is big business. Testing companies make obscene profits from the tests and supplementary materials that schools are often forced to purchase. Sounds a lot like what the Medicaid prescription drug bill did for the pharmaceutical industry.

Four years into No Child Left Behind, America continues to lose ground to the rest of the industrialized world in student achievement. Our goal for education should not be good test scores, but preparing our students to compete on a global playing field that is getting more and more level all the time. America needs to be raising a generation of well-rounded, critical thinkers who can meet the challenges of the global economy, not good test takers.