-- The latest "school reform" scheme backed by politicians and business
leaders who have never spent a day in a classroom teaching children is high-stakes
testing -- requiring students to pass a standardized exam before they can be promoted
Unlike other educational fads,
this one isn't just unproven; it has been tested and found to fail. High-stakes
exams have long been standard practice throughout the southern United States,yet
these states have the worst-performing school systems in the nation, according
to independent measures.
Do we really want to copy policies that have failed in such states as Mississippi
and Alabama? Why should we subject even more children to a scheme that has been
proved to undermine both educational quality and equity?
Test-driven education flunks
on many grounds. One-size-fits-all standardized exams assume that every child
learns in the same way at the same time. Fortunately for society, young people
have all kinds of minds. Some excel at academic work. Others have vocational or
artistic talents that the tests do not measure.
Many simply do not perform
well on high-pressure exams that focus on memorization. Minorities whose parents
do not speak standard English and students with disabilities are at particular
risk, because the fast-paced exams fail to assess their learning accurately.
Nonetheless, proponents claim
that high-stakes exams make students learn more. In reality, teachers often just
drill them on how to beat a particular test. For example, in Texas, the high-stakes
testers' "poster boy," scores have risen on the state's exam but failed
to budge on the independent National Assessment of Educational Progress reading
Observers report that some
students cannot answer questions that don't exactly fit the format of Texas' test.
When education is reduced to test coaching, most real learning is eliminated.
Fortunately, there are better
ways to improve school quality and monitor student progress. By having skilled
teachers assess student academic performance over time through portfolios, projects
and exhibitions, not one-shot tests, we can achieve genuine accountability and
improve student learning. That is the sort of reform all of our children deserve.
Monty Neill, Ed.D., is executive director of the National Center for Fair &
Letter to the Editor
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