Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Standardized Testing Gone Wild

Washington, D.C. Edition:

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Monday that he favored federal rewards for local school districts that fire underperforming teachers and close failing schools, saying educators needed to be held accountable when they failed to fix chronically troubled classrooms and curb the student dropout rate.

The president’s proposal, which was included in his 2011 budget request to Congress, is his latest criticism of America’s failing public schools. In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Obama said federal aid would be available for the districts that are home to the 2,000 schools that produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts.

“If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year,” Mr. Obama said, “if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.”
Lost on our "Professor-in-Chief," apparently, is the relationship between "failing schools" and rat-psychology standardized testing. Holding "teachers accountable" is the same kind if rhetoric that has saddled us with No Child Left Behind, a blizzard of standardized tests, and enough cheating scandals to warrant their own section of the newspaper.

Mr. Obama said he was particularly troubled by the dropout rate. He said 1.2 million students left school each year before graduating from high school, at a cost to the nation of $319 billion annually in potential earning losses.

“Now it’s true that not long ago you could drop out of high school and reasonably expect to find a blue-collar job that would pay the bills and help support your family,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s just not the case anymore.”

I'm not sure it's been the "case" in over 30 years, but regardless: yes, the dropout rate needs to be lowered, everyone agrees with that. And the best way to lower the dropout rate would be to scrap rote memorized curriculum and standardized tests.

I wonder how long it will be before the education bureaucracy (which has obviously consumed the president and his Education Secretary) realizes that the much-vaunted standardized test is the very screening device being used to push kids out of schools by teachers and administrators: the lower the scores, the higher the dropout rate.

But that's not quite as sexy as "policing our failing schools" is it?

UPDATE: Please welcome renowned education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch to the fold of scholars, authors and agitators who recognize the futility of standardized testing gone wild.

Testing had become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself. “Accountability, as written into federal law, was not raising standards but dumbing down the schools,” she writes. “The effort to upend American public education and replace it with something that was market-based began to feel too radical for me.”
And the fact that she has the education bureaucracy on its heels and angry is even better.
“She has done more than any one I can think of in America to drive home the message of accountability and charters and testing,” said Arthur E. Levine, a former president of Teachers College, where Dr. Ravitch got her doctorate and began her teaching career in the 1970s. “Now for her to suddenly conclude that she’s been all wrong is extraordinary — and not very helpful.”
Au contraire. Extraordinarily helpful.

1 comment:

Alex said...

"Under NCLB, as school districts receive federal funding they are required by law to hold 20 percent of those funds aside, anticipating that its schools will fail to meet its Annual Yearly Progress formula. When that “failure” is certified by test scores, the district is required to use those set-aside federal funds to pay supplemental education service (SES) providers. Ignite! has placed products in forty US school districts, and K12 offers a menu of services “as an option to traditional brick-and-mortar schools,” including computer-based “virtual academies,” that have qualified for over $4 million in federal grants. Under NCLB, supplemental educational services, whose results are being increasingly challenged, reap $2 billion annually.

Nationally, there are over 1,800 approved providers of supplemental educational services, but little in the way of regulation. To the contrary, Michael Petrilli, former member of the Department of Education, purports, “We want as little regulation as possible so the market can be as vibrant as possible.” To that end, Kress is currently lobbying on behalf of another bipartisan coalition to win reauthorization of NCLB for another six years."