Thursday, February 09, 2006

What Does Testing Prove?

Over the course of its implementation, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has managed to alienate teachers, parents and students with its focus on results of standardized testing. In my boys' elementary school, the teachers have said the actual content of the NCLB test is "laughably easy" and yet the stakes are so high, before the test the school sends out "relaxation exercises" for parents to practice with children to help raise their scores. My boys freaked out, of course, assuming that, since they'd never had school mandated "relaxation" before, the test must be a life or death situation.

There are complaints across the nation that good schools are being penalized for bringing kids who are performing three years below grade level to "only" one year below grade level, while schools (generally in white and middle to upper-middle class neighborhoods) with students performing at or above grade level (including the gifted) are completely ignored. Does the Bush Administration admit they may have created a fiasco by trying to measure the unmeasureable, namely measuring achievement instead of learning? No! They want to apply the same oversimplified, reductionist philosophy to colleges, according to the New York Times!

I know some of you don't have access to the NYT, so here's the gist:

"David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, a group representing private, nonprofit colleges and universities, said: "What we oppose is a single, national, high-stakes, one-size-fits-all, uber-outcome exam. The notion of a single exam implies there are national standards, and that implies a national curriculum. Then we are on the way to a centralized Prussian education system."

When Ms. Spellings, the education secretary, named the commission, she said that choosing a college was one of the most important and expensive decisions families make and that they were entitled to more information."

"Entitled to more information"--what is that supposed to mean? That we shouldn't have to visit a campus to get a feel for how the school works? Can we reduce the education at Harvard College, a non-Ivy private school like Northwestern University, large state schools like University of Michigan or Minnesota and small state schools like the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to a single number or ratio? No! Despite what Ms. Spellings seems to believe, not everything can be quantified.

And education should not be seen in terms of producers and consumers. Education is, or at least should be, the gradual unfolding of intellect, the finding of one's place in the world of people and ideas. Standardized testing has nothing to do with education. At best, it's a snapshot of one person's fund of knowledge on one particular day. At worst, it's a snapshot of one person's test-taking skills on one particular day. What do test-taking skills have to do with education? Nothing! They're not problem-solving skils, no matter what some educators would have you believe. They're "let's see if we can figure out what the teacher is getting at by asking this question this way" skills. That's kissing-ass, not solving problems, and certainly not education!! Right now, college offer a haven for gifted kids, because they can self-select what to study and at what level. But if the government decides that everything in education can be reduced to 1s and 0s, i.e. you know this or you don't, and colleges start teaching to the federal test like the elementary and high schools have, then there will be no point in going to any school at all.

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