Standardized testing, when I was in school, was something that occurred in the Spring each year. It took one or two days, the tests were shipped off and, sometime, later in the year my parents received a report back that compared my results to the other students who took the test. The teachers were relaxed when they administered the test and, once it was over, they went back to doing what they did best, teaching. Unfortunately, the era of the standardized testing and high-stakes testing has turned public education into a war zone, pitting student against student, teacher against student, teacher against teacher, administrator against teacher, and administrator against administrator. In fact, so much focus is being placed on high stakes standardized testing, that actual education and academics are losing out completely. We are training our students how to take tests, training them to be expert multiple choice test-takers, and losing out on teaching our children how to actually think.
I walked into the classroom of a colleague not too long ago. My colleague was sitting, at her desk, scratching her head as she gazed through a training manual. She looked concerned. When I asked her what was going on she told me that her students would, at some point, be administered a standardized test. My first reaction was one of shock. The reason for my reaction is that my colleague teaches severe and profound students. These are students whose disabilities are so severe that they will never be able to function normally in society. Some of her students sit deaf and blind in wheelchairs without any indication of cognitive ability. Most of her students will end up institutionalized at some point in their lives if they do not have a family member who is able to take care of them as they reach adulthood.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation is an equal opportunity piece of unrealistic legislation. As a result of NCLB, we are now administering standardized tests to all students, including those with special needs. But this is not the worst of it, with schools being mandated to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), children who typically would either be exempted from taking standardized tests due to specific disabilities or would qualify to take a modified version of the standardized test, are being forced to take the same standardized test that students without disabilities are taking. Additionally, they are being held to the same consequences, as students without disabilities, if they do not pass the test, no matter their disability.
In other classrooms, I have heard teacher request that they get just the gifted and talented students (GT) because they know that these particular kids will pass the test and, ultimately, make them look good. The ones with the challenging students, those who have limited English speaking skills, or students with any type of special need, are left with the threat hanging over their heads that if their students do not perform, their performance evaluation will be at risk. In one state, the day that the test is administered is so stressful, students have been known to become physically ill from the stress along with their teachers, too. Walls are covered, cabinets are covered, computers are left off, cellular phones are left in teacher’s cars, and documents are signed before a teacher takes possession of testing materials. Teachers are reminded that they have the potential to lose their certifications if there are any multitude of testing irregularities, including setting one foot outside the classroom while the tests are in the classroom (even though they are sealed and not on the student’s desks yet). The year is spent, teaching children and readying children to take the test. Children in specific grade levels are told that they will not be promoted if they do not pass as this is state law. The schools know what numbers they need to achieve specific benchmarks and they work diligently at this goal. The problem is that standardized tests are not being used as a viable measurement anymore but, as the end all and be all to public education.
The reality of all of this is that it is not the schools at fault. It is our legislature who does not understand the position that they have placed educators in, all in the name of improving education. NCLB is setting us back. Until our government gets educators involved in the process of improving education, and I mean seriously involved, not just as advisors or a passing opinion, the educational system in the United States will not be improved. Standardized tests have a place, but when you are putting all of you eggs in one basket, the eggs are going to end up rotten.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was authored with a good intent, to improve the educational system within the United States of America. Unfortunately, it has matured into an unrealistic effort with a focus on developing a society whose focal point is standardized testing rather than education. When educators are placed in the role of preparing students annually for an exam, true education is losing. NCLB was created by legislators, not educators. As it stands, standardized testing is hurting more than it is helping. Overall, it is destroying public education and something needs to be done. Teachers need to be allowed to teach, students need to given multiple opportunities in order to learn, and education needs to be refocused to meet the needs of the 21st century.