Testing...Testing...Testing? (NCLB? Common Core? Common Sense...Please!)

Once upon a time, little Gary Rice walked into a Pennsylvania first grade classroom that was preparing students for a readiness examination. The boy took one look around, took a good look at the paper on his desk, and then walked back out the door to his parents. "I'm not going to stay here!" said he, and he did not. It was another year before little Gary would be persuaded to return to school. For the next 12 years of his life, Gary would be at war with America's educational system. In many ways, he still is, even though he spent more than 30 years teaching in the public schools, and continues to volunteer from time to time as a retired teacher with your Lakewood Schools.
Little Gary was a pioneer in what has become the school testing refusal movement. Let's face it, testing could be so....Well, I distinctly remember getting a question "wrong" on that same readiness test the following year....We were shown a picture of two umbrellas- one having a curved handle, and the other with a straight one. We were asked which was a "man's" and which was a "woman's". I picked the "wrong" choice. Give me a break. At home, my parents used whatever umbrella was in the stand. Frame of reference governed my response, and not some artificial cultural or governmental expectancy, yet I was penalized for something totally beyond my control.

(Which was the "right" choice? I honestly don't remember, and for that matter, I wonder just how many "right" choices on some of today's tests might not be so "right" tomorrow?)

Perhaps the hottest hot potato in America these days would be the discussion about our public schools. While our excellent Lakewood schools continue to receive great accolades and widespread community support, a debate is raging nationwide as to just what really makes a "good" school...good.

In the State of Ohio, school district ratings were primarily based on three factors: standardized testing outcomes, overall attendance, and graduation rates. In recent years, state and national pressures have standardized curriculum to the point that virtually every teacher's lesson plans must directly relate to those standards...or else. As we are all aware too, with the newly proposed (and currently being implemented) national "Common Core" standards, there is a nationwide governmental push for even more state and national uniform standards and accountability. In other words, public education, once directed by our local communities, is now largely being either directly or indirectly dictated by your government at the State and Federal levels to a degree that many foreign dictators would be proud of.
Beginning around WWII, the national government felt that it would be in the national interest to discover and cultivate the "smartest" children in the nation, and it was principally for that reason of national security that the testing movement began. Originally, testing centered around competency in major academic areas, as well as in order to determine each child's IQ, and there were no penalties whatsoever for lower scores. Those scores were also a personal matter between the student's family and the school. These days, your children are being measured again and again, and they MUST measure up, or face greater and greater potential social or academic penalties, perhaps even including exclusion from graduation. As a result of your children's test scores, they may also be referred to special interventions, the school psychologist, or even to special separate public facilities.

Over a decade ago, the national "No Child Left Behind" law came along, ostensibly to raise the standards of excellence in the public schools. Thanks to NCLB, state and national governments have exceedingly stuck their noses into virtually every aspect of a local school district's operations. All of that happened sort of like this: Our public schools needed more money than local property taxes could provide, and there was also a call for more stringent academic standards, so the Feds got involved with public education, and along with their money, came plenty of strings attached.

The "No Child Left Behind" law was originally fashioned to be an accountability law in order to improve the public schools. Many of our political leaders from both parties originally agreed on the fundamental premise of the NCLB law. Conservatives wanted greater accountability and more testing for both students and teachers (a stand surprisingly inconsistent with their usual principles, since they usually prefer LESS governmental encroachment into people's individual lives) Liberals, on the other hand, were happy with at least the hope of greater funding and attention being paid to public education. (although more and more un- and under-funded mandates were instead heaped upon the public schools)

Almost no one is happy about the current state of public school reform and accountability.

In fact, more and more, across our country, a revolution has been not-so-quietly brewing against the current conception of all of our public schools and students being under such rigid Federal or State guidelines. The overall results of NCLB have been disastrous. All schools were supposed to achieve a level of measurable perfection by 2014 under NCLB, and now it seems that virtually none of them will do it. That's just one reason that so many states across our nation are presently attempting to opt-out of the NCLB mandates and jump onto the "Common Core" bandwagon. Students and schools, it would seem, are much like the rest of us....individuals having different abilities, strengths and interests. A number of students, teachers, and administrators across the country have also been taken to task for cheating on those standardized tests. To describe the current state of American public education as chaotic would probably be an understatement. Elementary students are often being asked to pass one-size-fits-all tests that would challenge many parents and politicians.

Academic testing for the purposes of measurement & evaluation can certainly be a useful tool, particularly when it's purpose is of a diagnostic and prescriptive nature. Testing was once a very private matter between the teacher, the student, and their parents. Nowadays, testing has blossomed into a national, and even international industry, and untold pressure has entered the lives of all involved in the never-ending quest for higher academic standards. (although there is still very little political agreement in our country as to exactly WHAT those standards should be! Is higher math REALLY for everyone? How "high" should it go? What should be taught in history classes? What about those science classes? Do we include creation with evolution? Then there's the question of sex education...Who agrees about THAT topic?

America's public schools have traditionally been a bright cornerstone of hope, offering opportunities for millions of children to learn, grow, and participate in the American dream. Still, a number of Americans continue to be bitterly divided as to what should even be discussed in our classrooms, much less taught in them. Accordingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, an increasing number of parents and students are simply refusing to participate in standardized testing, or even with government-run schooling. That those decisions might be controversial, there would be little doubt in my mind. At the same time, there may always be some parents who, in response to their personal consciences, will resist what they feel to be an unreasonable governmental intrusion into their personal lives, and the lives of their children.

Read More on Pulse of the City
Volume 10, Issue 3, Posted 5:59 PM, 02.04.2014