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Quinn Mulholland of the Harvard Political Review examined the issues surrounding annual mandated testing, interviewed leading figures on both sides, and concluded that the exams are overkill. They cost too much, they narrow the curriculum, they take too many hours, they distort the purpose of education.
Given all of these problems with standardized testing, it seems that the civil rights issue is too much testing, not too little. Instead of forcing low-income schools to spend millions of dollars and countless hours of class time preparing for and administering standardized tests that only serve to prove, oftentimes inaccurately, what we already know about the achievement gap, we should use those resources to expand programs in the arts and humanities, to provide incentive pay to attract teachers to areas where they are needed most, and to decrease class sizes, all things that could actually make a difference for disadvantaged students.
This is not to say that America’s accountability system should be completely dismantled. Politicians and schools can de-emphasize testing while still ensuring high achievement. Student and teacher evaluations can take multiple measures of performance into account. The amount of standardized tests students have to take can be drastically reduced. The fewer standardized tests that students do take can incorporate more open-ended questions that force students to think critically and outside the box
Thirteen years after NCLB’s mandates were first set into place, the rhetoric used by politicians and pundits is sounding more and more like that which the same politicians and pundits used to endorse NCLB. Congress would be ill advised to try to use high-stakes test-based accountability to narrow the achievement gap and expect a different result than the aftermath of the 2002 law. It is time to acknowledge that putting an enormous amount of weight on standardized test scores does not work, and to move on to other solutions.
Regardless of the outcome of the current debate, grassroots activists like [Jeanette] Deutermann will continue to fight against harmful test-based accountability systems like New York’s. “This is an epidemic,” she said. “It’s happening everywhere, with all sorts of kids, from the smartest kids to the kids that struggle the most, from Republicans to Democrats, from kids in low-income districts to kids in high-performing districts. It doesn’t matter where you are, the stories are exactly the same.”
“We may be passive when it comes to all the other things [corporate reformers] have interjected themselves into,” Deutermann warned, “but when you mess with our kids, that’s when the claws come out.”