06 June 2007

Failing the test.

I'm certain the Bush faithful and the enemies of liberal education will be hooting and hollering over this study showing that test scores have improved under No Child Left Behind. However, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that a law that considers education to consist of two subjects (math and reading) measurable simply by standardized testing and enforces a draconian system of punishment for schools unable to meet the limiting standards would have such results: after all, central administration, principals, and teachers all understand that their schools' fates rise and fall based upon two tests in the spring. So out with enrichment activities and silly subjects like social studies and science (although only temporarily: science will be tested soon under NCLB guidelines), and in with more teaching to the test.

It is in fact the absolute worst concept of education ever devised: the notion that the education process can be summarized by any standardized test. At a time when universities are beginning to re-examine, re-prioritize, or simply rid themselves of SAT scores because it has become abundantly clear how flawed those assessments are, it seems counterintuitive that the Department of Education should be so enamored of standardized testing.

And then you realize how truly limited the BushCo institution is. For them, the world is divided into black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, and nothing is ever complicated, nuanced, or conflicted. Since everyone's given the same test, the theory goes, then the results are valid across all populations. Hmph. Isn't it pretty to think so?, as someone once wrote. It'd be nice and simple to be able to measure a school so easily. Unfortunately, those of us who operate in the real world understand that schools are not created equal and do not compete on level playing fields. Schools in which 70% of the students receive free or reduced lunch, in which a large percentage of the parents work two jobs and/or don't speak English as their primary language, and in which must devote significant chunks of their budget to security concerns are simply not playing with the same ball that wealthy, established, suburban school districts play with.

We should recognize this difference and take it into account. I for one believe that my son is better served in his current school, with all its faults, than he would be in one of the outlying schools or private schools in which diversity -- economic, racial, social -- is not lived but is rather a vaguely understood concept. However, they don't test that under NCLB. They don't insist that public schools in wealthy neighborhoods reach benchmarks on economic diversity so their students can understand that not everyone receives a car when he or she reaches the age of 16.

People might object to such a requirement as "social engineering." They'd be right, but they'd also be incorrect not to recognize the current testing regime as another form of social engineering that is producing its own "successes" inevitably in its structure.


Momentary Academic said...

Well, just because you test well, it is no indication of how hard you'll work or if you'll cheat if you're not doing well, or anything really.

It would be terrific if everyone got a fair shot at school, but I don't think that NCLB really considers that much.

Reya Mellicker said...

It is in fact the absolute worst concept of education ever devised: the notion that the education process can be summarized by any standardized test.

Learning and education are complicated. Wouldn't it be nice if it could all be boiled down to the results of a test? It's such a naive assumption, made by people who were not well educated, obviously.