Today my nine year old daughter went off to school to take what we call the EOG (End of Grade) tests, part of the No Child Left Behind act.
For the next three mornings, she and her classmates will be hunched over test booklets, diligently filling in those little bubbles with newly sharpened number 2 pencils.
She hates the tests. Her teachers hate them. I hate them. But we have no choice.
Standardized testing is an easy fix that doesn't work. First of all, just because a kid passes or fails a multiple choice test, it doesn't prove whether or not he's competent in a given subject. He may have been distracted during the test. He may have skipped a question and marked all the wrong answers on the test card, even though he got them right. Or he may just not be a very good test taker.
Also, there's the issue of test development. Last year I was shocked at one of the questions my daughter brought home on a EOG practice test.
Here's the question: Where would you go to find where Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson in the library?
Here's the answer: The card catalog.
My daughter has no idea what a card catalog is. She's never seen one. Most libraries removed them in favor of computerized search systems back in the early 1990s. Since my daughter was born in 1995, they were long gone the first time she walked into a library.
I did ask her where she'd go to find a book in the library and she replied, "That's easy. I'd look it up on the computer."
My point is that these tests are put together by people. Regular folks like you and me come up with the wording, the subject matter, and the criteria to be tested, which may include the non-existant card catalog. For all we know, there are plenty more questions about things that are not in the experience of our kids.
But the worst thing about the tests are who has to take them. Everyone in the school. The special ed kids and the children of migrant workers who've only been there for three weeks and don't speak English take it right along with everyone else, even though we know ahead of time they won't succeed.
Supposedly, the schools with poor scores will get help to improve, but that's not happening. The idea of forcing a school to behave like a business (the best ones flourish, the weaker ones improve or close their doors) just won't work. As a former educator, I know you have to work with what you've got. It works fine for the middle class kids whose parents have worked hard to prepare them for school, but in the poorer schools, there are lots of kids whose parents are just not there for them. No one reads to them, no one hugs them, no one practices spelling words with them. If their schools fail, whose going to teach those kids? That rundown school in the inner city was all they had.
Seems to me, the No Child Left Behind Act is leaving children behind left and right.