Monday, March 3, 2014

What is a high-stakes test?

Why do schools emphasize two subjects, ELA and math over a well-rounded education for our children?

This madness began with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law in 2001.  NCLB mandated state testing to require yearly standardized assessments in ELA and math.  NCLB put pressure on schools to raise test scores, show improvement on a yearly basis, and included the impossible goal of getting all students to reach a proficient level.  If schools did not meet these goals they could face various penalties from negative labels that restricted Title I spending to outright school closure.

NCLB began the era of high-stakes testing in NYS.  When school ranking, labels, and punishments are tied to student test scores student assessment becomes corrupted and stakes are raised. School administrators will put pressure on teachers to raise test scores.  Which subjects are tested? ELA and math.  So schools under the gun for low test scores will shift their focus to what is tested and reduce or ignore other subjects.  Test prep and skills are in, a well-rounded education is out. Pressure works its way down from administration to teachers to students to "perform" better on the assessments. 

Along came Race to the Top in 2009 which created a "competition" between states to receive more funding.  New York State won this race and received just under $700 million dollars from the US Department of Education.  As a result of Race to the Top, New York State had to adopt several policies, including teacher and principal evaluation using student standardized assessment scores.  As educator evaluations are tied to test scores, the stakes are raised to a greater level.  More pressure is on school officials, teachers and of course our children.

The state assessments are not designed to diagnose our children's academic strengths and weaknesses.  The tests are also not a valid measure of teacher effectiveness. Yet, because of the "high-stakes" for adults and schools, our children suffer.