By Mike Lodewegen, Missouri Association of School Administrators
After more than a decade of federal intrusion into our local education policies, it is time for Congress to overhaul the system that is limiting student success across the country.
Passed in 2001 under President George W. Bush’s administration, the law commonly known as No Child Left Behind began the process of requiring state standardized tests to be given to every student from third grade through eighth grade in English and mathematics. Failure to score at certain levels on these standardized tests triggers sanctions and penalties for the local school districts. Among the most common interventions are that principals and/or teachers are put on notice and frequently fired.
The policy has continued during the presidency of Barrack Obama except that the United States Department of Education granted waivers from other provisions contained in No Child Left Behind if states adopted a system that mirrored the same federal testing and intervention guidelines.
So, how has 14 years of policies focused on test scores affected our nation’s school children and their families?
The most recent annual poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools conducted by Gallup indicates nearly two-thirds of American school parents (64%) believe there is too much emphasis on standardized tests.
According to additional Gallup research performed in 2014, less than half of students in the United States agree with the following statement “I get to do what I do best every day”. This is the very heart of one of the key ingredients of education: engaging students in learning.
The number of preliminary tests given during the school year to aid students on their end-of-year test has risen dramatically, especially in the nation’s more at-risk communities. According to the Council of Great City Schools’ survey, 66 of the nation’s largest urban schools indicated that in the 2014-2015 school year, students were tested 6,570 times. This same survey shows that students were required to take an average of 112.3 tests between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade.
What can be done to fix this problem?
The United States Department of Education has released guidance that urges schools to limit testing to 2% of classroom time. Also, they have indicated a commitment to evaluate areas of duplicative testing.
However, in a letter published in TIME magazine, Sen. Lamar Alexander from Tennessee and Chairman of the Education Committee in the U.S. Senate, states, “The real reason we have too many tests is that there are too many federal mandates that put high stakes on student test results.” Sen. Alexander’s position is that Congress should eliminate the federal mandates that raise the stakes of standardized tests and allow states to develop their own intervention policies.
Simply placing an arbitrary cap on testing time is an inadequate fix that does not address the underlying testing issue. Sen. Alexander’s stance more effectively addresses the problem.
No one is advocating for the elimination of accountability; to the contrary, effective student-centered measurements provide data that informs instruction and gives parents insight into their child’s progress. But real learning has very little to do with a standardized test, and yet that is where we find ourselves. The high stakes nature of our current testing system must end with the reform of the No Child Left Behind.
Earlier this year, both the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed legislation that would reduce the federal mandates of standardized tests contained in the No Child Left Behind law. However, those bills are still awaiting final approval from Congress.
It is time Congress passes an update to this broken and out of date law and place more control in the hands of states and local schools to help our children realize their full potential.
Mike Lodewegen is the Association Executive Director of Government Affairs for the Missouri Association of School Administrators.