Is State Testing of Schools Strangling Academic Diversity?

While the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 brought state testing of students to the forefront, standardized testing has been used since 1965.  The U.S. Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) “provided for the first major infusion of federal funds into local schools and required educators to produce test-based evidence that ESEA dollars were well spent” (www.edutopia.com).  Since that time, state testing has taken the most prominent place in the classroom, slowly crowding out history and social studies, music, and art from curriculum to the relatively lowly spot they occupy today.

While reading and math are extremely important subjects, state testing mandates have created a “drill and kill” mentality.  The schools “drill” students on the core subjects on the mandated tests so they can “kill” the test and get great scores.  Great scores translate into more federal dollars for schools.  While there are plenty of supporters who believe that the tests are the best way to objectively measure student and teacher achievement, opponents argue that these state tests are creating such a narrow curriculum that the schools have raised a generation of test takers rather than critical thinkers.

History Testing

A 2007 study by the Center on Educational Policy reported that “44% of school districts reduced the time spent on science, social studies and the arts by an average of 145 minutes per week in order to focus on reading and math” (http://standardized.procon.org).  A survey of “civics, government, and social studies teachers showed that 75% of those teaching current events less often cited standardized tests as the reason” (http://standardized.procon.org).

One of the subjects taking the biggest hit in the wake of state testing is U.S. history.  In 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released their report regarding the 2010 test scores.  The test assessed 30,000 students in a sample designed to represent the U.S. student population on all levels, including socio-economic and language barriers.  Only thirty-two percent (32%) of eighth graders could identify one advantage the U.S. troops held over British troops in the American Revolution (www.huffingtonpost.com).  The NAEP administers tests in several subjects, not just history.    In 2010, only “20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors tested proficient in history” (www.huffingtonpost.com).  Proficient equates to solid academic performance.

What Experts Think

Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch has stated that “it’s worth noting that of the seven school subjects tested by NAEP, history has the smallest proportion of students who score Proficient or above in the most recent assessment available.  The results of this assessment tell us that we as a nation must pay more attention to the teaching of U.S. history” (www.huffingtonpost.com).

Even some school districts are rethinking the state tests.  John Kuhn, a school superintendent in Texas, believes that standardized tests have gone from a tool to understand and address student needs to “a quick way to judge kids, teachers and entire districts.  It’s no longer diagnostic.  It’s punitive” (www.reuters.com).   According to the Reuters.com article, more than 500 school boards in Texas have passed resolutions demanding a reduced focus on the state tests, as have several large districts in Florida.  Parents in Washington state have organized to boycott the state tests and kept their children home on test days.

Given the backlash not only by educators and parents, but also government officials and some test administrators, it is time to rethink state tests and allow teachers to stop teaching to a test and teach to help educate a generation of well-rounded critical thinkers.

Byline
This article was composed by JR Olson for the team at Just Colleges.

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