Last week in class after a heated discussion about how No Child Left Behind has left us behind, my classmates and I were pretty upset about the implementation and effect of initiatives that NCBL (No Child Left Behind) created. The problem is not necessarily that the program as a whole is a bad idea, but rather that it is ineffective at helping students who most need the aid. What struck me as most surprising was the fact that if a school’s yearly progress shows that they are not on target after multiple reformation attempts, the school can be shut down.
For middle school, I went to a relatively new public school in my county. The building was only 7 years old when I was in 6th grade, and the teachers were highly concerned that this shiny new school could be shut down if the students did not meet requirements on standardized tests. I remember the pressure surrounding the tests was so great, that the teachers were spending weeks preparing us for this one exam. The only classes that I could even enjoy were social studies and science where these standardized tests did not seem to matter. We made castles out of sugar cubes in social studies to symbolize the medieval times, but in math and language arts we completed practice question after practice question.
Regardless of all of the standardized tests, my love for school persisted. I followed orders, did my practice questions, took the exams. I did not once think “why do I have to take these tests?” It was just something that I thought everyone always had to do.
Thinking critically about big policy issues, addressing policies that have impacted our own school careers, and raising awareness for those currently being impacted by big decision policies such as No Child Left Behind, is important so that students today will be capable of growing up to be the leaders of tomorrow. Leaders are not created through standardized test after standardized test. They are created through learning how to think critically. Having a solid foundation in the material is ultimately necessary to forming the ability to think critically, which standardized tests serve to analyze. Standardized tests themselves are not the root of the problem, but the value weighed so heavily on student achievement from test after test, is what creates a failing system.
If the system is “not working” according to data from a test, why is it easier for an entire school of teachers to be replaced, than it is for an alternative testing method to be found? A test needs to be made for the test, to discover its true effectiveness, and to analyze what the students that excel are doing differently than those who do not. If it is a matter of socio-economic status then the solution is not stripping these schools of their funding for better educational materials, it is rather finding a way to provide the help that these students need while they are in school, where they have a chance to thrive and excel as equals to their classmates.
According to RethinkingSchools.org, portfolio based examinations are an alternative to standardized tests. I feel like my teachers in high school implemented this type of assessment, however it was not considered at the state level. This site suggests that after portfolios for each student are collected and assessed according to a standard scale, randomly selected portfolios will be assessed from each classroom. These portfolios will serve as a basis for the students longitudinal “learning record”, and will serve to represent the schools performance overall in comparison to portfolios from other schools in the district and then the state. The problem with this type of assessment is simply that it takes more time and effort. This type of assessment would be ideal in very small districts or with a very low amount of portfolios, but it does not compare to the ability to run thousands of scantrons and have a computer calculate mean scores.
Rethinking school assessment is critical, but not as critical as ensuring that every child receives a well-rounded education. An education that encourages deep critical thinking skills. An education that does not make the child feel as if they are nothing but a number on a test. Education should be about learning, not about assessment. Sadly, I don’t see public schools escaping the confines of standardized testing anytime soon.