"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, November 13, 2006

Parents for NCLB Reform Respond

A response to Judy's post earlier today:

Parents for NCLB Reform: Focus on the Kids, not the Tests
www.stormpages.com/notest

As a parent, I began investigating the motivation behind the excessive emphasis in our schools on preparing for standardized tests. The No Child Left Behind Act was a bipartisan education reform effort and holds support on both sides of the aisle. Its purpose seems sincere and it’s understandable that most, including our elected officials, would unequivocally support its premise. However, NCLB’s objectives are being seriously undermined by its implementation. My main concern is the reliance on the “one size fits all” testing used to measure the performance of schools and students. When standardized test scores are the only barometer of success or failure it causes serious problems for administrators, teachers and most importantly, the students.

There is overwhelming documented research on the ramifications of schools being evaluated and punished based on test scores. Teachers and administrators are under tremendous pressure to perform well or face NCLB sanctions. To quote our school principal,"When you establish an evaluation process in which the final step is to disband the school and fire the staff when the 100% standard is not reached, it does tend to focus the instructional efforts." As parents, we are seeing a greater focus on basic math and literacy skills, but at what cost? All over the country, administrators are cutting back on the arts, science, history, social studies and literature, to create more time in the classroom for test preparation on these two areas of study. This year, our school eliminated plays. Again, quoting our School Principal,“We all will miss the traditional plays but the testing sets the agenda. More changes will be coming in the future.”

When other parts of the curriculum are systematically removed, what will be left to motivate our children’s desire to attend school? Take into account what children do when they are bored and their creativity is not challenged. One of the major objectives of NCLB is to provide teachers with better training and resources to help them become better educators. However, I increasingly hear stories and read articles about their frustration and concerns that they are being prevented from using their talents in providing an enriched curriculum. Teachers are faced with such great pressure to improve scores that they are left with no choice but to shift their focus away from the individual student to “teaching the test.” While literacy, math and limited areas of science (the areas currently tested under NCLB), are essential components of a child’s education, drilling the basic skills and coaching them to pass a proficiency test does not provide our students with the tools they need to become well rounded self motivated thinkers.

While our politicians will argue that statewide testing is the only means of giving parents an independent assessment and of how well a child is doing in school, I have found little or no evidence to support the argument that standardized test scores are an accurate measure of real learning or better teaching. Consider also how high stakes testing affects our children’s physical and emotional health. We must examine how a learning environment that emphasizes excessive test preparation and pressures students to perform proficiently or face grade retention significantly adds to the normal worries that children face. The NCLB testing requirement promotes a learning environment that diminishes critical thinking, creativity and the social and communication skills that are necessary for the long term learning process. We must concentrate on the children, not the tests. Please visit my website, www.stormpages.com/notest , for information on how we as parents can challenge this political decision.

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