-- In Clovis, California you can't get a
4th Grade promotion these days without demonstrating mastery
of the standardized test skill. Even
in President Bush's first week in office he said he wanted
standardized "...testing of every child, every year."
The implications of the president's
education initiative is a multibillion-dollar green-light
for test-preparation firms that provide materials and services
to schools. California is now trying to keep pace with the
tremendous growth in tests given to elementary and secondary
school students, and with the techniques made possible through
Last Spring, state lawmakers approved
roughly $914 million worth of rewards and other funding tied
to test results, including measures Gov. Gray Davis characterized
as "...the largest and most aggressive package of teacher
incentives ever offered by any state in America."
All employees in schools that improved
their test scores enough to meet their 5 percent "growth targets,"
as defined by the 1999 law that set up the state's accountability
system, qualified to receive bonuses of roughly $800 early
The schools themselves are also receiving
rewards of roughly $70 per student that they can spend however
they see fit, on training, instructional materials, or additional
California school officials were
so persuaded of their merit, rewards were initially announced
as twice those amounts, but the individual bonuses had to
be scaled back because more schools than expected made significant
gains on state tests. In fact, more than two-thirds of schools
eventually qualified for cash awards.
The state education department had
previously predicted that 60 percent of schools would meet
their growth targets. To top off those incentives, the state
is offering an even bigger carrot to teachers at schools coming
up with extra ordinary testing gains.
The legislature budgeted $100 million
to provide $25,000 bonuses to 1,000 teachers in schools that
log the largest improvements in test scores, while another
11,000 teachers are getting bonuses ranging from $5,000 to
$10,000. It is not surprising that a great deal of uncertainty
has surface among educators about teaching the test.
Since the early exuberance, however,
new test content is setting off alarms with school administrators.
The ethics of teaching children to improve their test performance
in nothing new. For generations, children have been encouraged
to improve curriculum test performance. But what teachers,
administrators and parents don't buy is the new pressure to
teach test-preparation as a separate course of study in an
already overburdened school day.
Test publishers told the Clovis Free
Press News this week that they "...provide a needed
service to help students learn more, teach them to do their
best and help families and educators cope with mounting fear
Critics say such materials prey on
parents' and educators' anxieties and do not improve education.
California provides one of the most vivid examples of the
The workbook to prepare California
3rd Grade pupils for the state's standardized test is among
the most detailed of a new genre of guides for elementary
students, sold by Kaplan Publishing, a leader in the
test prep industry. It is so detailed that it likely exceeds
what the state allows in its classrooms.
In the coming Spring test extravaganza,
California will likely distribute $700 million to schools,
based exclusively on the results of one standardized test.
Ironically, the state's policy bars educators from using "...any
test-preparation materials or strategies developed for a specific
The California ban on use of commercial
test-preparation may have a dulling effect on future test
performance. But, commercial workbooks are likely part of
the expansion of the $100,000,000,000 for-profit education
business. Most of the growth has been in online workbooks
tutoring aimed at schools and families.
For instance, Advantage
Learning Co. provides computer software and training
services designed to improve academic performance of students
at the K-12 level. It encourages students to practice taking
tests in reading, math and writing and gives
students immediate feedback on performance. By the end of
1999, Advantage Learning Co. racked up the sale of
its test prep program to 40 percent of the nation's public
Advantage's says it's sales
angle is, "...to generate dozens of tailored, paper practice
tests just like the actual standardized tests! Score student
practice tests in seconds and get immediate results! Predict
student performance and identify potential problems-months
in advance! Automatically receive progress reports on all
students, without additional paperwork! Easily develop effective
intervention strategies to boost test scores! Build student
self-confidence and minimize testing anxiety!"
In addition to computer software,
Advantage Learning also provides professional development
training for teachers. In 1999, the company generated more
than 85 percent of its revenues from the sale of software
products and related support services; the balance of revenues
was derived from the company's professional development training
By last June, Business Week Magazine
ranked Advantage Learning ion the Top 20 businesses
in its annual list of "100 Hot Growth Companies" based
on its school sales which were $492,000,000 by June 1, 2000.
President Bush's proposal for yearly
tests, if adopted, means most states will expand testing to
a new federal curriculum.
Even without a federal testing mandate,
about half of the states are already pushing students to pass
a comprehensive test to get a high school diploma, and some
states, including California, are looking into requiring children
to pass standardized tests for promotion to certain grades,
the Clovis Free Press News has found.
The increased reliance on high-stakes
testing may be pressuring teachers to tests excessively, drill
and practice for the mixed purpose of boosting class and school
test scores and the teacher's share of Gov. Davis' $914 million
teacher rewards .
Letter to the Editor
©2000 Clovis Free Press. All rights reserved.