Raise the river or lower the bridge
Testing is becoming the be all and end all of education. Teachers complain of having to focus on test preparation in the classroom throughout the school year to the detriment of real education. Testing has become a national preoccupation for students, parents, teachers, administrators and politicians.
Education is a national priority, but setting unrealistic goals and premature legislation will not solve the problems schools find themselves in. The authors of the massive education law “Leave No Child Behind” have found that noble intentions don’t raise standards of performance. Many states are finding it impossible to meet the arbitrary goals and standards set to be in compliance with the law.
Despite the political disagreements kindled by its failure and questions of its validity, states are backing down on imposing serious sanctions on schools that do not meet standards that the states themselves have set. If a school does not meet the standards and states do not “punish” that institution or get waivers exempting it from the law’s requirements, they may lose millions of dollars in valuable federal funds.
The stated goal of the program to raise all students’ scores to a level of 100 percent proficiency by the year 2014 is proving impossible to reach and states are “lowering the bridges rather than raising the river.” Under federal law, any school that fails to improve over a period of a few years by offering tutoring, remediation and other support services to underachieving students is considered a failing school. A failing school is a candidate for reorganization. The solution: Lower the standards because the educational sanctions actually hinder promotion of educational excellence. According to Dr. Robert Linn, professor at the University of Colorado, states are encouraged to “water down their content and performance standards in order to reduce the risk of sanctions.”
New Hampshire, Hawaii, Ohio, Michigan and even Texas are among the states that are looking for federal waivers and admitting early defeat. If they don’t lower the standards, many schools and a large number of children will be left behind. The simple solution: Lower the number of questions that students must answer to pass the high school English tests as Michigan did recently from 75 percent to 42 percent.
The results of this year’s achievement tests were grim, said Chase Untermeyer, member of the Texas Board of Education. “Few students did well. Many students got almost no answers right.”
In a similar situation, exit exams have become the bone of contention in other schools. The results of this year’s exit exams in California found that one in five high school seniors would have to be held back and denied graduation because they failed what some call a “world class exam imposed on a third world educational system.”
In Florida, when 13,000 seniors failed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, they became ineligible to graduate despite the fact that they passed the required courses.
The issue is clear. Are our states failing our children? Will the problem be solved by administering achievement tests and manipulating the passing grade? Should any one test decide a student’s future and become the factor that determines whether a student be granted the G.E.D. or a regular academic high school diploma? Shouldn’t a total record of performance be the criteria for determining success or failure?
These are not simple questions. They deserve adequate time, study and analysis to determine the road best traveled. No simple law will provide a solution. Shouldn’t these decisions be left to educators and not politicians?
For further information contact Helen Ginandes Weiss, M.A, and Martin S. Weiss, M.A., learning consultants, via e-mail at email@example.com or by writing to P.O. Box 38, Twin Lakes, CO 81251. Call them at (719) 486-5800.
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