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How NCLB and Test-based Accountability Harm US Public Schools

Updated on August 15, 2012

The Bubble

Inside this ten-year-old bubble, Americans believe that our schools are failing, our teachers are to blame, more tests and homework are necessary, and school choice will save us all. Even though the NCLB force that blew this bubble is fading from the field, our bubble will remain unyielding as the government forces new accountability structures that will hold it in place.

In our bubble, we rely on state tests to tell us everything we need to know about our children's progress and achievements. We don't have to spend any time at the craft stores looking for project supplies, because this bubble has an endless supply of worksheets to keep the kids busy. There are also lots and lots of tests to make sure the kids are learning what they should be.

What many parents do not realize until it is too late, is that our bubble is critically flawed.


The Bubble's First Flaw

Our bubble is based on the premise that one standardized test can accurately measure the achievement of all our many students, who have different backgrounds, learning styles, and learning abilities. The standardized tests used in our overcrowded classrooms are outdated, unreliable and inadequate. Visit FairTest to learn more about the negative effects of these misused tests.

US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has promised our teachers new and improved tests with more open-ended questions. But how will these tests be graded? Dan Rather reported (see video below) that the tests are shipped out-of-state to cramped warehouses where unqualified temps grade the tests in stressful working conditions. That is just a slap in the face to our hard-working students. Rather also pointed out that the testing companies seem to be the only ones benefiting from the tests.

The failure of state tests to accurately measure student achievement is magnified in our special education population. So much time and effort are poured into making sure IDEA students receive the services they need, yet there is little or no accommodation allowed for state tests. Special education students are tested on grade level, rather than on the level they are actually taught and can comprehend. Not only is this unfair and inappropriate for the student, the test results are meaningless.

Who is Evaluating the Evaluators? Video by Dan Rather Reports on HDNet


Desperate Measures?

My son's class will receive a Chick-fil-a lunch party if every student improves his score from last time on the MAP standardized test. Do you think this is wrong?

See results

The Bubble's Second Flaw

"Teaching to the Test" is a destructive philosophy also ushered in by NCLB, though you will not find this phrase in any school handbook. If schools score poorly on the state test, they will receive sanctions or even be shut down. For teachers, if scores are low, they will not only receive less pay and bad performance reviews, but may even lose jobs. With these high-stakes in place, "teaching" is no longer focused on the student, but on what desperate measures can be taken to get good scores.

For our children, that means more test preparation, more practice-tests, more tests, and more homework. Often replacing the related arts, physical education and recess, it is random facts that are being drilled into their heads only to be spit back out on a piece of paper. So much time and energy is wasted on preparing for the state tests, that there is little time for meaningful lessons that teach critical thinking and other necessary skills. Where are the building blocks? There is no foundation when teachers are required to spend so much time drilling facts.

Case example: The students in my child's fourth grade class were instructed to study for an upcoming Social Studies test every night for one week. A study sheet was sent home listing the facts that the students would need to memorize. The teacher sent parents an email stating that the facts were taken directly from the state standards and would hopefully help prepare the students for the state test. (The state test is four months down the road.) There will also be a pre-test before the real test to give the students more practice. Drill. Drill. Drill.


The Bubble's Third Flaw

There is a very bad word that was spawned in our bubble, and you won't find it in the dictionary. Re-segregation.

When the state standardized test scores indicate that schools are failing, parents demand better. Instead of seeing if the "failing" schools actually need assistance, the response has been school choice and charter schools. The problem is, not everyone can "choice out," because there are limits and lotteries blocking the way. Since school choice and charters usually require parental transportation and extra family participation, lower-income families are less able to fulfill the choice.

In our country, poverty strikes black families more often. That means our "good" schools and charter schools are filling up with higher-income white students, leaving the others behind at the "bad" schools. Lower-income students do tend to score lower on the tests, so then the poor schools that need the most help will face sanctions or be shut down. To avoid the punishment, these poor schools "teach to the test" and drill facts even more, which oppresses these students further. If we separate the rich from the poor, and the white from the black again, the cycle continues and the achievement gap widens.

Case example: My daughter attends a public charter school that is located in an affluent white neighborhood. According to the school's 2011 report card, 119 students were white and 4 were black. According to the US Census, our county has a 30% black population. There are also no black teachers or staff at this school.

This bumper sticker says it all
This bumper sticker says it all | Source

Burst the Bubble

We need to take action to save our public schools. United Opt Out National is a fast-growing group of parents and educators who have banded together, taking weekly actions to end punitive high-stakes testing. Parents Across America and Save Our Schools (SOS) are also large alliances that advocate for fair public education. There are many studies and articles online showing the negative effects of high-stakes standardized testing in our schools. Be informed.

Education is the future for our children and our country. Talk to other parents, teachers and your principals. Make your voice known to both your state and US legislators. See what our presidential candidates have to say about standardized tests and accountability. What can be done to return control of public schools to the local level? If parents don't speak up now for our children, we will have to continue to live in this bubble of self-defeat.


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