Op/Ed 3/26/10

Nationwide testing questioned over value

Emily Loveridge
Blog Editor

You can ask any student or teacher what they think about standardized testing.  Students have been taking them since at least second grade, in the form of STAR tests, the CAHSEE, the ASVAB, benchmarks, AP tests, PSATs, SATs, ACTs, and various others.   Who among us hasn’t mastered the art of quickly bubbling in all the letters for our name, birthdate, and grade?  We’ve spent many, many silent hours in the gym, filling in bubbles.  But does this incessant bubbling really help?
Standardized testing wasn’t started by President George W. Bush’s administration, but it was certainly enhanced by Bush’s No Child Left Behind act.
Introduced shortly after his inauguration in 2001 (when this year’s freshmen were in kindergarten) and signed into law early 2002, No Child Left Behind was based on the idea that having high standards and measurable goals can improve each child’s outcome in education.
Each state was required to develop assessments to be given to all students if they wanted federal funding for schools.  In California, government officials developed the STAR program, which includes California Standards Tests (CSTs), the California Modified Assessment (CMAs—and not the Country Music Awards), the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPAs), and Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS).  Prior to last year, STAR also included the CAT/6 test that we all, unfortunately, remember taking.
NCLB focuses on the basics, with strict sanctions if numbers aren’t met.  With this high demand on the basics, most specifically reading and math, teachers aren’t given the time to focus on other subjects.
All schools can try to do is produce the numbers and pray they meet the ever-lowering standards.
Has standardized testing helped students?  Now, Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the key battlers for NCLB (No Child Left Behind) in Bush’s first term has changed her mind and says no.  Ravitch, who was outspoken about the power of standardized testing now sees that “school reform today is… going the wrong way.”
Students today have faced almost their entire school careers based on the NCLB.  If NCLB has sent us the wrong way, what does that say about us?
Quite possibly it may mean that today’s students know less about history, art, and other electives, because the time must be spent preparing students for English and math tests.
President Barack Obama is planning on completely changing this in the weeks to come. NCLB is up for revamping and reauthorization in the near future, as it failed to be reauthorized in 2008.
Obama is of the opinion that it should not be reauthorized unless it is changed fundamentally—that the focus should be moved from standardized testing.
So, will this new attempt at bettering American education actually help students and teachers in the classroom?  I hope so.


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