Throttling our children's education


If you are one of those people who is OK with testing our children as a means of determining whether their schooling is adequate, have we got one example to destroy that belief.

Mission High School in San Francisco is considered a failing school because of its low scores on standardized tests. "And yet, contrary to the test scores, 84 percent of its graduates were accepted to college ..." wrote Diane Ravitch, for the New York Review of Books. Ravitch is a historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University.

Ravitch calls standardized testing, "The monster that ate American education," and for good reason. "In recent years, American public education has been swamped by bad ideas and policies," wrote Ravitch in the New York Review. "Our national leaders, most of whom were educated at elite universities and should know better, have turned our most important domestic duty into a quest for higher scores on standardized tests."

We all know the history of standardized testing and how it started with Lyndon B. Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which, at its heart, was an attempt to ensure all children received an equal and adequate education. Eventually it morphed into George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation and morphed again into President Barack Obama's Race to the Top. Recently, yes, it's morphed again, this time into Every Student Succeeds Act.

"The law mandated that every child in every school would take standardized tests in reading and math from grades three through eight and would achieve 'proficiency' by the year 2014," wrote Ravitch. "No excuses. Even children who could not read English and children with significant cognitive handicaps would be expected to reach 'proficiency.' Every state was left to define 'proficiency' as it wished.

What was the denouement for a school that failed to achieve federal standards? "A school that fell behind in the first year would be required to hire tutors. In the second year, it would have to offer its students the choice to move to a different school,. By the end of five years, if it was not on track to achieve 100 percent proficiency, the school might be handed over to a private manager, turned into a charter school, taken over by the state, or closed."

So, as schools began in vain to teach to the test, other subjects, such as arts, science, history, physical education, and even recess, fell by the wayside. Administrators at other schools around the country cheated to present their students as making adequate progress. Instead of seeing these incidents as evidence teachers and administrators were afraid of losing their jobs because of unrealistic expectations, they were vilified in the press and by those who support charter schools and standardized testing.

According to the Council of the Great City Schools, the average student takes 112 standardized tests from pre-kindergarten to the end of high school, most of which are mandated by the federal government. "The new online tests for the Common Core require children in grades three to eight to sit for 15 to 20 hours over a two-week period to measure their reading and math skills," wrote Ravitch.

While Ravitch admits that many public schools are doing well by their students despite standardized testing, other schools are failing our children, especially those in low-income and minority communities. She reminds us that poverty does more damage to the ability of our children to learn and become productive members of society, but we seem to be more intent on teaching them how to take tests and blaming teachers and administrators for society's failure to address why our system is failing so many of our children. In other words, testing is easier than facing reality.


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