Standardized testing can impoverish children’s education

Posted July 20, 2014, at 1:58 p.m.

The testing culture that drives current educational decision-making in our schools impoverishes children in many ways.

One of the external forces interfering with student learning is time stolen from teaching.  A middle school colleague in Maine recently told me she literally lost five weeks of instructional time each year to standardized testing. In a system where students are not performing academically as we might wish, five weeks is a lot of time.

A second external force that negatively impacts student learning is reported in Wrong Answer, by Rachel Aviv, an exposé of the Atlanta school system’s widespread public school cheating scandal in the July 21 New Yorker. The article describes a culture of cheating that developed as a response to a district’s data-driven performance demands as measured by standardized tests. The cheating scandal was widespread and will only be replicated as more states measure teacher effectiveness by a weighty reliance on test results.

We should resist the impulse to look for solutions to large problems in small places. We will not find the answer to how to help all students in a complex country like the US get a good education in  spreadsheets. Data can be a tool – one of many – but it is not a panacea. A culture of standardized testing will not produce lasting improvement.

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