“No Child Left Behind” Testing

It’s that time of year again.  Time to test all the children in the country to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  In Colorado, this comes in the form of the dreaded Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP . . . “see-sap”) tests, but every state must administer some form of standardized testing to receive federal education funding.  And students must do better each year (or at least the schools must game their tests to make it appear that way) .  So all year long, schools conduct lessons on how to take standardized tests, and the curriculum is planned around them (or, in ever-increasing numbers, teachers, principals, and school districts outright cheat).

Students are given incentives and bribes to ensure that they participate and do well, and they are threatened and intimidated with consequences if they do not.  At my son’s school, his class was told that if they had 100% attendance for every day of the event (spread over two weeks), they would have a pizza party at the conclusion.  On the very first day, one boy was absent.  Can you imagine how vilified that boy will be?  Don’t kids taunt and bully each other enough as it is without giving them extra fuel? 

For my daughter, because I teach her at home through a virtual academy with a statewide enrollment, her school conducts testing at a handful of test sites in the major population centers.  For us, this translates to an hour and a half of driving each day for a week.  It could be worse; when we lived in a more remote area, the drive was nearly four hours.  Any mandate that blindly requires 100% compliance with no common-sense exceptions is ill conceived.  President Obama has tasked Congress with revamping NCLB by the fall of 2011, but I’m not holding my breath.

Testing required by NCLB isn’t just inconvenient; it’s a colossal waste of academic time.  The CSAP tests take roughly 16 hours, and they paralyze class time for three to ten days (depending on how much the school spreads them out).  At my daughter’s school, CSAP testing will push back her completion date for the year by nearly a week. Additionally, instruction on how to do well on the tests takes up to dozens more hours.  Testing and test preparation can easily take 10% or more of the roughly 1000 school hours each year.  When teachers are complaining that there is simply not enough class time to cover everything necessary to prepare students for their futures, does it make sense to use so much of that class time on taking and learning to take tests that have been shown to have very little (if any) benefit?

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