Wednesday, January 24, 2007

No Test Left Behind

NCLB has one basic premise: every child can and should perform at their grade level. Period. An implicit premise is that in order to make sure that this is happening, we need to test the hell out of them. Standarized tests. Every kid can and should pass the same one.

Here's the problem: it's bullshit. All of it.

If you've worked with kids, you know right away that they can't all perform on the same level, and that some kids just don't get it even after you exhaust every method you know to help them. Doesn't matter whether it's writing or spelling or math or sports, some just cannot meet expectations.

So it is with tests. In New York, in order to get a standard diploma each kid needs to pass a big test in each of the 4 core subjects, plus one or two other subjects. That's the deal, if you want a standard diploma, you pass the Regents test. Period.


Too many kids fail. They're easy tests to fail. A 3 hour test has a couple dozen multiple choice questions and a lot of reading and writing. If there's 20 multiple choice questions, you need something like 13 or 14 to pass the test, assuming that they do well on the written sections. Not a lot of room for error there, not if you're a struggling student.


You can't just fail kids because they can't pass the test. Too many would fail, and that would mean there are big problems in the school that we're not equipped to address, so things get fudged. First, they give the hardest tests in January, but if kids fail they take an easier version in June. If they still fail that one, they can take summer school and then take an even easier test in August.

And then if they still fail, they can qualify for an even easier version, given in components, one at a time.

See the pattern here?

Go back to the basic premise of NCLB. Are all of the kids performing to the same set of standards? It's obvious that they're not.

So what is it that we're doing? I mean, besides stigmatizing the writing and analysis process by associating it so heavily with a test, and teaching to the tests and hurting our chances of developing creative and dynamic thinkers, what is it that we're doing?

Vote with your dreams, folks, not with your fears.

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