Getting Testy About Standardized Testing
When I was a freshman in high school, teachers spent the entire year scaring students by telling them that they wouldn’t graduate if they didn’t pass the CAPT test. The CAPT was Connecticut’s state standardized test mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. More of our class time was spent drilling test-taking methods than actually learning.
Almost anybody who has been through school over the past decade should be able to see the problem with this. We all know the feeling of cramming for a test, spending hours trying to memorize the material just so that we can get a good grade. Yet, after completing the test, most of what we memorized is quickly forgotten. Therein lies the problem of focusing such a large percentage of education on test scores.
Over the past decade, schools have placed an increasing focus on test scores. This practice began first with the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and is now being continued with Obama’s Race to the Top fund, which forces state school systems to compete for federal funding so that the states with the highest test scores receive the most money.
The idea behind these programs is to guarantee that students learn the basics of education. The most common belief is that standardized testing is the best indicator of this, but SAT scores don’t always mean good college performance. According to a 1992 University of Pennsylvania study, SAT scores account for only 4 percent of the difference in predicting cumulative college GPAs. However, there is a positive correlation between test scores and family income level. This isn’t to suggest that students from lower income households aren’t as smart as those from higher income households; students from higher income households often have access to greater resources for tutoring as well as more time to study.
Under Race To The Top, public schools that don’t meet the appropriate testing standards are closed down or privatized and turned into charter schools. These charter schools want to maintain a reputation for turning out students who perform well on tests. As a result, they admit only the top test-takers, leaving the rest to be shoved into other public schools that are overcrowded and increasingly under-funded. This happened recently in New York City when the Panel on Education Policy, staffed with a majority of mayoral appointees, voted to shut down 12 schools, affecting nearly 12,000 students. Last year the school committee of Central Falls, Rhode Island fired the staff of their low performing high school en masse. Central Falls is the poorest city in Rhode Island.
A major theme of Obama’s State Of The Union address was education reform and the need for schools to have a greater focus on math and science so that the United States can better compete with countries like China and India. “Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science.” If the president truly cared about improving the quality of education, he wouldn’t be pushing policies that encourage cramming for tests while stifling true learning.
America’s focus should be on improving public education in a way that actually inspires a love of learning.
The Brooklyn Free School, where students are given the freedom to self-direct education and make decisions democratically alongside teachers, is a fine example of this. I believe that the focus on competitiveness and standardized testing isn’t one that inspires critical thinking, and that a truly well-rounded education leaves literature, music and art programs in the dust.