Standardized testing hits a nerve
Nail biting, stress headaches, sleepless nights or all of the above. Standardized testing — and its side effects — has been part of the U.S. public education system for decades.
But lately, the Common Core curriculum and revamped tests are coming under fire. Critics say the new tests put too much pressure on kids, waste instructional time and encourage educators to emphasize rote memorization — teaching to the test — in lieu of meaningful learning.
The issue is proving political fodder during an election year, with both parties advocating for education reform. Critics of testing are picketing schools and urging parents to opt their children out of tests.
Celebrities are taking on the issue from both sides: Actor
Matt Damon, the son of an educator, and comedian Louis C.K., who tweeted about his children’s stress over testing, have spoken against the over-reliance on standardized tests; actress Eva Longoria and musician John Legend are among those who helped fund an ad in support of standardized testing.
What’s a parent to do? Here’s the history behind standardized testing, so parents can decide on which side of the debate they stand.
No Child Left Behind
For years, states designed and administered standardized tests without much interference from the federal government. But amid growing concern about racial inequity in education and the U.S. falling behind international competitors,
President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law in 2002. It was the most sweeping reform of education since 1965, the year President Johnson’s War on Poverty created the Title I program and significantly expanded federal funding for education.
NCLB required states to test students in math and reading every year from third through eighth grades, and at least once from grades 10 through 12, with results broken out by race and subgroups, such as
English-language learners and students with disabilities. Low-performing schools risked losing students to a better public school, or even closure.
Over time, educators realized that the law encouraged schools to focus on two numbers — scores on rudimentary English, language arts and literacy, and math tests — which often meant drilling basic skills and facts at the expense of a broader education.
“When you teach to a test or even prep for a test, educators are taken away from some of the good work they could be doing helping students learn,” says Elizabeth Green, author of Building a Better Teacher and co-founder of Chalkbeat, a news site covering education.
While the reforms of NCLB were taking hold, another movement was gathering steam.
Unlike most developed countries, the U.S. had never required that every child acquire a specified set of skills and body of knowledge. So a third-grade math Standardized testing hits a nerve: