Standardized Testing: Is it a Blessing or Curse for U.S. Students?

Friday, September 16, 2011

While adults tend to reflect on their school years with nostalgia, going on about the ease, comfort and fun life held when homework was the most intimidating part of their day, recent studies indicate that, these days, there is nothing to be jealous of.

Budget cuts and a single-minded focus on preparing youngsters for high-stakes tests have, in the opinion of many, made the American public school experience downright boring. And, for what? On Wednesday, the College Board announced that SAT reading scores for the high school class of 2011 were the lowest on record, while combined reading and math scores fell to their lowest point since 1995.

Reason For Decline

While College Board officials insist the declines may be the result of a broadening test pool -- for instance, about 27 percent of the 1.65 million test-takers last year came from a home where English was not the only language, up from 19 percent a decade ago -- Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of the group Fair Test, told The Associated Press that explanation doesn't add up. In 2003, the number of SAT-takers expanded by a greater percentage than last year, according to Schaeffer, but scores actually rose 6 points on both math and reading.

"Yes, changing test-taker demographics matter," he said. "No, they don't explain a 18-point drop [in combined scores] over five years."

Supporters of the education reform movement argue that evaluating teachers based on test scores is the only way to ensure they are focusing enough attention on reading and math skills necessary to academic achievement for students in low-income areas, who typically score the lowest on standardized tests.

As a result, the arts, humanities, science and even physical education courses have either been reduced or sacrificed, a move that may be making children and teens less inclined to actually enjoy a day at school.

Too Much Testing, Not Enough Lessons?

In fact, some studies indicate that students, especially those of color, are not showing up to class for precisely that reason: they're bored. A February 2011 report by Youth United for Change found that boredom was one of the greatest factors that caused students in Philadelphia to drop out.

"It's so much time put into the testing, and it gets boring," says Ramon Rodriguez, one of the contributing study authors who himself dropped out of a number of Philadelphia-area schools. "To sit there and read constantly, the same questions that they ask every year."

No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush's education policy initiative that was implemented in 2002, requires schools to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on reading and math tests or face harsh penalties, including closure. Furthermore, President Obama's Race to the Top grant encourages states to tie teacher evaluation to student test results in order to compete for extra federal funding.

The focus on standardized testing is starting earlier and earlier, to the point where even Kkindergarteners are being indoctrinated into the system. A 2009 study by the Alliance for Childhood found that kindergartners in Los Angeles and New York City spent six times as long on literacy and math skills than playing, even though early education experts insist that play is crucial to a young child's healthy development.

Read more