Standardized Testing: Is it Leading to No Child Left Behind?

Below is an article on standardized testing which takes a stance against this policy and the No Child Left Behind act. This article was contributed by a parent of three sons who are in the public school system. Read it carefully and send us your thoughtful responses. This is an important topic and parents across the nation need to start an intelligent dialogue. Like the author of this article, I believe this policy is ruining our children and plan to write my response to this article in the near future, after I finish the article I'm working on about the recent shooting at my son's middle school.


by Christopher M. Zimmerman

With three sons enrolled in a Manhattan public school, I am dismayed by the emphasis placed on standardized testing. Tests are not a new thing, of course. But what is new are the high stakes of the exams, which the city has begun to use to measure school performance under the Bush administration's controversial No Child Left Behind act, and the way in which the academic year must consequently be organized around them.

No previous generation was subjected to such a barrage of exams. At least here in New York City, schoolchildren have to take one test after another, from the third grade through the eighth. (If they don't excel at every step, there is summer school, and those who don't make the cut at that juncture are held back for extra tutoring, or forced to repeat their current grade.)

. . . I am dismayed by the emphasis placed on standardized testing.

Then there are the anxieties faced by underpaid teachers who routinely work six days a week (if not seven), and the principals who hover over them. Dedicated as these professionals might be, they labor under the threat of having their school placed on what amounts to a blacklist if their students don't measure up. Beyond that, because of No Child Left Behind legislation, they risk the loss of federal funds, and eventual shutdown, if the school does not improve.

Not surprisingly, curricula across the city are continually being revised in order to maximize standardized testing scores--and simultaneously denude them of the creativity and flexibility that children (and teachers) thrive on.

On the home front, parents increasingly find their weekend plans thwarted by test-prep classes, and their evenings tied up by the challenges of coaxing a child to relax (but still pull himself together) and not worry (but still do his best). No wonder that author Jonathan Kozol has described the whole ordeal as "pathological and punitive." Writer Johann Christoph Arnold says it is "tantamount to child abuse."

Jonathan Kozol has described standardized testing as "pathological and punitive."

I'm not complaining about my kids. With a roof over their heads and food on the table, they don't need pity. They can get help when they need it, and a hug, or a break in the park near our apartment. Sometimes we leave the house whether they "have time" for it or not, simply to give them some fresh air between homework assignments. In an age when recess is seen as a quaint, old-fashioned idea, they'd never get outdoors otherwise, except on the weekend.

But what about the kid who doesn't have these things? And what about the teacher who spends every Saturday in the classroom and never has time to recharge? Is it any surprise that in New York City alone, where teachers face enough hurdles as it is, quite apart from testing frenzy, some 7,000 teaching jobs are currently going begging?

3.5 million standardized tests will be administered this year at a cost of about 6.5 million dollars.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, New York State will administer about 3.5 million tests this year, at a cost of about $6.5 million. As for the fallout on the children who are forced to pass them--sure, many adults are concerned. But they're addressing the problem in some pretty bizarre ways. One is the use of the Test Anxiety Inventory, a 20-point yardstick for measuring test stress devised (you guessed it) by a professor of psychology. Another "helpful" product on the market comes from the Institute of HeartMath, which is selling a CD-ROM with "strategies for controlling test anxiety."

It's money for the experts, but it leaves parents like me steaming. I don't have any grand solutions, but I'm sure of one thing: it's time to rename the no child left behind legislation that's driving a good part of this insanity. Because if things continue the way they are, it won't matter which child is left behind. There'll be no child left alive.


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