by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com
May is typically the month where students spend up to two weeks testing their knowledge of grade-level standards. Standardized testing is mandated for all public school 2nd through 12th graders as part of the No Child Left Behind Act former President Bush signed into law in 2002. Test results are used to calculate each school’s Academic Performance Index (API) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Schools are required to progress up 5 points every year and meet all target demographics in the school, which, if not met, can come with steep consequences.
That API score, or overall school test score, is one of the first things parents tend to look at when considering a school for their child, but is it the best way to measure a school? Is a high score all it’s cracked up to be? Does a lower score mean the school is no good? What does that API number really tell us?
API scores tell us how students performed on a series of tests over the course of a couple of weeks the previous spring.
But test scores are NOT indicative of the quality of a school’s educational experience. For my elementary school parents, they merely measure how a group of students, (last year’s 2nd-5th graders), tested in that particular week of spring testing in the subjects of English Language Arts and Math, with some 5th grade Science.
Test scores do NOT tell you what kind of teaching is going on, what the learning environment is like, how effectively teachers communicate and interact with the students, if the school fosters positive social-emotional development, or if students come away with a sense of curiosity, a love of learning, or long-range comprehension which becomes the base with which to scaffold deeper meaning and higher knowledge.
Test scores do NOT indicate what other subjects and enrichments students are exposed to, if they are given opportunities for hands-on learning, exploring alternative learning modalities, working in teams, mentoring or accelerated differentiation where needed, or if instead, students are grouped and repetitively drilled in the basic test subjects of English and Math — sometimes referred to as the “bread and water” of public education.
I have seen parents pull their kids out of high-performance schools that may look better “on paper,” (scores in the upper 800s to low-mid-900s), when the actual classroom experience turned out to be stressful, repetitive, and threatening a child’s innate love of learning.
Dianne Ravitch, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind in George W. Bush’s Department of Education, says she now feels that it was all a big mistake.
“The basic strategy is measuring and punishing,” Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. “And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there’s a lot of cheating going on, there’s a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it’s actually lowered standards because many states have ‘dumbed down’ their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are.” Full story.
Sure, we all want our kids to be able to read, write and do their arithmetic, but is that where the majority of the focus should be?
The best way to get a feel for a school, more than just looking at test scores, is to get on campus, take a look around with your eyes and your gut instinct, meet the people involved, ask questions, and have a direct personal experience there. Scores can only tell you so much.
© 2011 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.
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