Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lowering the bar doesn't make our kids smarter

I didn't ever think about this, but since every state has their own standardized test (Texas has the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills--TAKS, Missouri has Missouri Assessment Program--MAP, etc.). So, although the states have "standardized" tests, it doesn't mean that we are accurately measuring students' skills equally. And, evidently, from what the Austin American Statesman says,
Research by the National Council on Education Statistics found that in 2003, Mississippi was the only state with an easier fourth-grade reading standard than Texas, assuming all states test the same skills.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires states to set their own targets and interim goals and submit them to the Department of Education. So, in Texas, we set the bar low so that we can look like we have made major achievements by meeting the goal of all children passing TAKS by 2014.

NCLB also requires standardized testing to track the progress of racial, ethnic, linguistic and economic groups in order to ensure no group is being left behind. However, Texas has set a standard that the group has to number at least 50 and make up at least 10 percent of a campus's enrollment in order for that group to affect progress. In other words, if a school is 95% African-American, with less than 50 and less than 10% English as a Second Language speakers, , they don't have to be tracked. Or if a school only has a handful of Asian students, their academic failure doesn't count against the school.

I'm not a big fan of tracking. Every inner city school I've been in starts blaming groups of kids for their failure to achieve a "recognized" or "exemplary" standard from the state. At the 85% Hispanic, 15% African American school I was at, they constantly referred to the "one 5th grade African American male student" who had "messed up" their results. I find that pretty unfair to "blame" a kid for that, but that's what has resulted from NCLB.

I spent some time with a 3rd grader yesterday and she informed me how she was so nervous about the TAKS test (3rd graders are no longer allowed to advance to the next grade unless they pass their reading TAKS test). She said she gets scared. She kept reassuring me (and herself) that it shouldn't be hard because, "I know my strategies." But then she would tell me about students in her class who made a 17% because they missed X number of problems and how they all had to be careful not to write in certain spots on the test because it would be thought that they filled in an extra "bubble," which would then count them wrong.

The fact that the standards are lower in Texas is extremely disappointing and concerns me for our children. What's worse is that our standards are lower yet so much anxiety is produced in the children as if they were taking the LSAT...and they don't even know that their lowered expectations are setting them up to be less prepared than the rest of the United States. What's even worse than that is our childrens' intellect is being determined by if they fill in a bubble correctly.

I think testing is good...IF it's there simply there as an assessment of how well WE, as teachers, have gotten the skills across. I'm not a fan of producing anxiety-ridden children. Besides that, our world is changing. We've got to change our educational system to match the pace of our ever-changing, highly technological world. It would be nice if the stimulus bill hadn't voted out school infrastructure. Sometimes we have to go beyond testing and figure out what's wrong with the system that's producing the under-prepared children.
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