Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Education of a Person, Part 4

Part 1: The Question

Part 2: What is No Child Left Behind?

Part 3: Funding and who NCLB affects

Today: Part 4: Testing and AYP

I think one of the most controversial parts about the No Child Left Behind legislation is the mandated testing for kids. Testing does have its pros. Standardized Testing allows kids to perform the learned skills they have acquired. Standardized Testing creates an even playing field for all kids in each grade level, when they are all given the exact same test. Standardized Testing is a good way to measure, objectively, the progress a child is making from the beginning to the end of a school year.

Testing also has its cons: Standardized tests are a good method of assessment for just a very specific group of learners; it does not account for kids who are tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, verbal, etc. Also, Standardized Tests only allow for answers that are specific; without open-ended questions students are often unable to express that they know and understand the answer but possibly the answer choices may be confusing. And, just plain old testing in general - it takes money to develop the tests, time is taken away from classroom instruction to administer the tests, more time and money is used to grade the tests, and also to interpret the results.

The NCLB legislation only requires that students be tested in the area of reading/language arts, math, and science. Individual states may require that students be tested in other areas, such as history, geography, and writing skills.

Under NCLB, all children in grades 3-8 are to be tested every year in reading and math, and once again sometime between grades 9-12. Science must be tested 3 times, once during each of three grade intervals (3-5, 6-9, 10-12). Further, any schools with limited English-proficient students must also administer tests of English proficiency each year, to assess oral skills, reading, and writing skills.

Schools must test at least 95% of their students, including subgroups like students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency. Schools must provide reasonable accomodations for students with disabilities, but I'm not sure what those accomodations are. Like, extended time? Well, even if it takes a student 4 weeks to complete a test, do we really want to put a child through that? I'm not sure.

Lots of folks say that testing causes teachers to "teach to the test", meaning they teach the information that will be on the test and ignore other parts of the curriculum. Okay, here's the part where I may get some people upset...

The tests have been designed to assess the MOST important skills that a child needs before moving on to other parts of school. So if a teacher is limiting his/her time on subjects like Art, Music, Health, and History, but pouring more information and learning into Math and Language Arts, then I think it is okay. Yes, of course all the other subjects are important too. But can a person be productive in society at large without being able to name all the presidents, or know the difference between a bacterial and viral infection, or be able to sight read music? Yes, they can do just fine in the real world. But what if they don't have the ability to read? Or the ability to do simple math? These are the skills that they need to simply be good citizens of their community. If they can't read, they can't vote. If they can't read, they can't read road signs while driving. If they can't do math, they can't fill out a simple tax form. If they can't do math, they won't be able to keep track of a bank book. Or cook with fractions. Or compare prices in the grocery store. Countries like Japan, India, and China are churning out children who can run circles around American children when it comes to academics. Is it the genetics? Hmm, maybe but I don't think so. I think it has to do with the work ethic and focus on acquisition of knowledge. I feel like American schools are more focused on "development of the whole child". While I agree, that is very important, our school system produces plenty of graduates who know more about the rules of soccer or how to load your iPod with songs than they do about Algebra or Written Composition. I think we could do just fine - better than fine - if we focused more on academics and less on the extras. And that doesn't mean that we should get rid of those classes or teachers. I just think (my opinions here) that some subjects could be offered as before-school classes or after-school classes, for free, and be called "enrichment classes". Teachers would still be employed. Classes would be offered at the school. More time could be devoted to math and reading.

And, something to consider: If a teacher is able to teach information to students, and they get it, then the teacher is simply doing what he/she is supposed to do! If a group of students as a whole cannot make progress from September 1 to May 1, then maybe that teacher DOES need to take a break from teaching and take some teacher inservice classes or re-evaluate his/her position at the school.

Here is an awesome link to lots of these questions and answers from the point of view of the Federal Government.

I believe we can all agree on one thing: If schools continue to test our children for their math and reading skills, they will eventually become more relaxed with the process. If your child (who's 2 and a half) is planning to go to Medical School, He (or she) had better get ready for those MCATs. And what better way to get more comfortable with standardized tests than... to... take standardized tests? For now, these tests are a necessary evil so instead of hating them we need to learn to just live with them.

I'm pooped out so I'll talk about AYP (adequate Yearly Progress) next time!


Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

I might be in the total minority but I feel the 'extras' like art, music and PE are just as important but I know what you are saying that simple math and reading should be the basis. I agree with that totally.
I really like the whole Classical education theory based on the Greeks--education should be for mind, body and soul.
Interesting stuff here!

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

yeah, I have no idea what the answer is. The thing I was trying to emphasize, but I was so tired that I didn't do such a great job at my post, was that other countries that the US *should* be competitive with academically (like Japan, China, India, and many mid-eastern countries) also produce artists and musicians and athletes, but they do not allow a slack in academic areas like math & reading. Plus, for some of those countries, English is also compulsory, which means they are even a little bit ahead of us.

I think the US just has a different mindset about all this. We love our freedom to choose. We love our freedom to be as active or as lazy as we want. Other countries don't enjoy the same freedoms and therefore, quite often, education is much more serious and much less fun. But, I would bet, the kids in those other countries have fun anyway. They have fun after school and before school, playing with friends, goofing around. They see school as serious time. I think it really stinks that so often, kids need to be entertained, even at school. Constantly teachers have to come up with "more engaging" ways for kids to learn. My kids are no different - it's because of the society in which we live here in the western world. But what ever happened to learning for the sake of learning? For getting smarter to make yourself and your family proud of you? TO feel a sense of accomplishment. Nowadays, it just seems like kids only want to get good grades because they want to be paid for their A's, or earn a big reward, or some other material compensation. That is where we are so different from eastern countries, I think.

I could be wrong. Maybe this will be another investigation for me... finding out the truth about Education in Countries of the eastern world. Stay Tuned!

Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

Totally agree on Math and Reading/Language Arts being the primary focus of schools. All of us, no matter what field we end up going into will use those skills most.

Standardized tests suck, I think. I test well. I have always tested well. So, not from MY perspective. Some people just lack the attention span or reading comprehension to do it in the allotted time. Mindi was always one of those. She tests TERRIBLY. I always felt sorry for her because she had great study skills, decent grades and a great work ethic. She is not a teacher today because she couldn't pass a standardized test to get her into her next block of classes in college. Makes me sad to consider it.


Kellan said...

This is a great topic and I think it would also be good for On The Flipside. Think about it and let me know if you are interested. I have published your "What Is She (Really) Thinking" On The Flipside for tomorrow. Thanks so much for offering this great post/topic and for being a guest blogger. I put up 2 poll questions with this post. Can't wait to see what everyone has to say. See you later - Kellan