Since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed in 2001, standardized tests have been a harsh reality for every public school district in the country. The tests are now a national requirement in order to receive federal school funding. They are meant to work toward closing the achievement gap by ensuring high-quality education for all students and providing yearly progress reports. In some states, students need to pass an exam to be promoted from one grade to another. In others, a passing grade is needed to graduate high school. The testing is designed to measure each student equally by basing exams on similar standards; government officials had high hopes that the tests would ensure better success and equality among students.
Nearly twelve years after NCLB was implemented throughout the country, groups of parents, teachers and school officials are criticizing an overdependence on standardized tests. In some cases, they are refusing the tests altogether. Some educators believe the preparation needed for the standardized tests takes away from class time that could be used on other, more important topics. Standardized tests also cost states up to millions of dollars to create, prepare and administer. School boards suggest that the money could be used elsewhere in more beneficial budgets. However, the impact the tests have on school curricula receives the most criticism. Parents and educators alike condemn the shift toward “teaching-to-the-test,” which, loosely interpreted, means “if it’s not on the test, it’s not getting taught.” The concern is that student instruction depends more on how to use knowledge to pass a test and less on how to use knowledge in realistic situations.
Recently, an active protest against standardized testing has taken shape. Parents nationwide are joining a new “opt-out” movement and refusing to allow their children to take the tests, claiming the experience has become traumatic and stressful rather than educational. Teachers, too, are joining the movement; at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, instructors are refusing to administer the exams because they don’t think the exams are helpful anymore. Due to the outpouring of criticism and debate on the subject of these tests, state legislatures have been forced to examine the issue. Texas, as the most recent state to take a stand,, follows Minnesota and a few other Midwestern states in passing a bill that greatly reduces the number of required standardized tests. In Texas, these numbers shrink from 15 to 5 required tests.
In many states around the country, the issue is just becoming a hot topic. Whether or not standardized tests will continue as the primary measure of progress has yet to be seen, but it has become clear that the current method is viewed as unacceptable to many. We may soon have to consider new ways of measuring our students’ and our schools’ success.
Did You Know?
It is widely known that an increase in standardized testing was a direct result of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), holding schools responsible for making sure children are learning—but what about the other regulations and resources that were set into motion by NCLB? With the passage of NCLB under the George W. Bush administration, parents were provided with school district report cards that commented on which districts were the most successful and why, as a way to encourage school improvement. Supplemental educational services (SES) were introduced to provide free tutoring to those students whose schools noted they were in need of improvement for a minimum of two years. Bringing a focus to literacy, the program committed one billion dollars per year to help children learn to read. Further still, NCLB was intended to help teachers become better instructors, offering them funding to further their learning.