The debate over standardized testing has been raging for years. The argument escalated in intensity following the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which, in addition to other related requirements, mandated yearly testing of every student in all 50 states. Since then, teachers, parents, and students have weighed in with their ideas about whether these tests truly improve the educational system in the U.S. or if they do more harm than good.
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Now, the wind of change might be blowing, as President Obama recommends changes to the current standardized testing process. What does this mean for the future of our schools?
First, let’s consider the impact of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
NCLB is nothing if not controversial. Advocates claim that it holds schools and teachers accountable, thereby working to close the country’s education gap. Those who oppose the act say it takes money from schools while limiting teachers’ focus to only the subjects and content of the tests, damaging the overall quality of the education being provided in our nation’s schools.
One of the most impactful aspects of NCLB has been what it means for schools that are labeled as “in need of improvement” based on their test scores. After five years, these schools must write up a plan for restructuring, and the following year they need to make those changes. Whether this has been helpful or harmful (or maybe a bit of both) is also up for debate.
But, the biggest controversy associated with NCLB is the testing itself.
What’s now commonly viewed as the testing overload of America’s schools has been a source of conflict and strife for parents, teachers, and students alike. Analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress found that 49 percent of parents feel the testing is too much, although three out of four did see the benefit of frequent testing in order to assess students’ progress.
According to a recent report by the Council of Great City Schools, the average student will take about eight tests per year from kindergarten through graduation. Additionally, the tests were found to be redundant and not properly aligned with curriculum standards. Little correlation was found between time devoted to testing and improvement in math or reading skills.
President Obama feels that it’s time for a change.
After years of debate and analysis, the Obama administration has announced new testing guidelines. These guidelines are recommendations, not regulations, although if Congress included the recommendations into an alteration of the NCLB law, districts would need to follow them.
President Obama said he’s received feedback “from parents who, rightly, worry about too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students.”
A fact sheet from the education department concedes: “The Administration bears some of the responsibility for this, and we are committed to being part of the solution.”
The recommendations are focused on three main points.
1. Tests should be meaningful and of high quality.
2. Students should spend no more than 2 percent of their class time taking tests.
3. Tests should be viewed as just one way of assessing students and schools, with other tools (such as class work and surveys) factored in to determine rates of success.
NCLB revised the Elementary and Secondary Education Act over a decade ago, and further revisions are currently in the conference committee process in Congress. The Obama administration hopes that these recommendations will be considered as legislators work on revising the law. If they are put into place, it could mean big changes for America’s schools.
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