Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Standardized Testing: The Bane of American Education

A couple of years ago New York City decided to use standardized tests as the only criteria to select kids for the gifted and talented program at the kindergarten level.  Predictably upper-income parents started sending their kids to test preparation classes.  Since the test-prep classes can cost more than $1,000, and families are buying $90 workbooks or $145/hour tutoring for their four year-olds, kids from lower socio-economic classes are losing out.  Their families can't afford all the extras, so these kids fall below the 90th percentile cut-off to get in.  Demographically, the number of black and Hispanic students has dropped from 46% to 27%.

City officials claim that they are committed to developing testing that is not so easy for parents to game so that gifted students of all demographics enroll in the gifted and talented , but the problem is that standardized testing by its nature is biased toward students of middle and upper-class backgrounds.  This is one of the long-term criticisms of tests like the SAT.  Students more culturally attuned toward the types of questions asked, and the environment of testing succeed at higher rates. The process gives students that already have all of the social advantages built into our system an even bigger leg up.

That NYC even thought to administer standardized tests to pre-school kids shows how pervasive the testing culture promoted by No Child Left Behind has become.  Schools only seem to evaluate based on tests aimed at a small subset of skills and abilities rather than the whole child.  There is no room for teacher assessment of classroom behavior and achievement, verbal and motor skills, etc...  We're busy taking the human factor out of education in favor of "objective" standards that really aren't objective.  The negative effects of the emphasis on testing are well-documented and growing daily.  Florida still has problems getting accurate grading of its 2009-2010 testing, other systems are reporting cheating by teachers and students, and college faculty report that students arrive unable to perform tasks like note-taking, without basic geographic knowledge, and unable to write simple essays.

Standardized testing has already taken a huge toll on our education system.  We need to stop it in its tracks.

1 comment:

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