Education in America: Dealing with High Stake Testing

Testing is a form of assessment and evaluation. Since the beginning of the accountability movement of the 1980s and the standardized-based reform movement of the 1990s, the state and federal governments in America have not only increased their influence but added more funding to public education.

The state and federal educational laws are now beginning to shift from equity and access building to strict and punitive measures aimed at not only rewarding teachers but punishing them as well, even if many of them are outstanding teachers. All is in the name of school reform and school improvement.

Some of the public educational policies designed as incentives to effective teachers who impact students directly or indirectly, may not benefit them after all. At issue here is the “too much emphasis” on the state tests, known as “the High Stake Test. Take for example, the State of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, known as FCAT. The test is administered every February and March of the year. The primary purpose of the test is to gather important information about students in order determine whether they have attained mastery of specific benchmarks in reading, language arts, mathematics, and science. Other reasons include requiring students to pass FCAT if they want to graduate and earn a diploma to be gainfully employed.

Under the Parents Rights to Know Act, state governments are required to inform parents of their children performance in school. For example, the FCAT information offers parents the opportunity to know that their children have met one of the requirements for graduation. The test offers teachers the opportunity to know where their students are so that instruction can be tailored and strategies adapted or differentiated to meet the Sunshine State Standards (SSS). The standards continue drive instruction and in the process drive teachers and parents crazy. Like every in life, there are costs and benefits. The main cost to the state is that the test is very expensive to administer. Other costs include: too much time wasted in preparing for the test at the school site; a school culture often changes; and faculty and staff often are divided and uncooperative. The benefits may include monetary promotional gains from the school district and the state government. Other benefits include joy of seeing one school moves up a grade level, from F to C, and the faculty and staff united to improve the lives of their students.

But many teachers, parents and college professors have challenged the high stake test on many grounds. They continue to argue that there are some fundamental problems with the conceptualization and design of the entire standardized tests. Many of them have written papers and conducted research. Others have taken school districts and state governments to court.

In the State of Florida, for example, the results are used to classify schools as functioning or effective or schools in need of assistance. Schools that are performing are classified as A and C schools. They are allowed to continue their school improvement plan with minimal involvement or interference from the state. But the “failing schools”- the F and D schools are under the radar but are provided resources in the form of technical and material support.

Teachers and administrators in all schools in the state are under tremendous pressure to perform. But teachers and administrators in low-performing schools are more scrutinized, and often pressed to change their ways of instruction. Many studies have been conducted to measure and compare instructional practices and students’ achievement. Others have measured the impact and gauged student’s knowledge in different schools with students’ knowledge in other nations, as many parents and educators continue to argue that the emphasis on testing has marginalized some subjects such as history, literature, the arts, and by focusing too much on cognitive skills development. This has led to an approach to schooling that discourages the teaching and learning of foundational knowledge and the “whole” child. This has also led to many elective subjects being neglected and abused, limiting the opportunity to find true calling.

Nobody really knows where America stands as a nation. The educational system is going through a “car wash” and anything can happen in the next couple of years. One thing that is clear to me is that the Obama administration seems committed to improving the quality of public education, and not motivated to punish teachers. School administrators must then realign their administrative strategies to fit the new thinking in educational leadership. I remain optimistic about the future of America public education.

Now that Nigeria’s acting president is making tough decision and the pressure is on him to make meaningful changes, education and electricity should be his legacy.

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