"There will be testing," he said. "We can have accountability without rigidity -- accountability that still encourages creativity inside the classroom, and empowers teachers and students and administrators."
CNN reports that Pennsylvania parents are registering their displeasure by opting-out of the two-week standardized testing required by NCLB. The parents are using established procedures in that state. Michele Gray is one parent who decided her two sons would not participate in the testing this year because she believes the tests are not accurate measurements of accomplishment, create undue anxiety for the students, and are used to punish schools.
"The more I look at standardized tests, the more I realize that we have, as parents, been kind of sold a bill of goods."
The report included views of testing proponents, who believe that opting-out does a disservice to school children. According to United Negro College Fund President and CEO Michael Lomax:
1) "Testing is a parent's ally" and that in order to compete with countries like China and India U.S. schools need to be held to a higher standard. And testing, he says, is the way to do it."
2)"The testing isn't the reason the schools are failing. The instruction is the reason the schools are failing," Lomax insisted.
Mr. Lomax is misinformed on both counts.
For the last 30 years, the federal government has declared an educational crisis. The current "crisis" stemming from our nation's ability to compete globally is based upon the performance of US students on the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA).
What is PISA?
A cross section of students at public and private schools, between the ages of 15 years 3 months old and 16 years 2 months, are selected from schools that voluntarily participate. A minimum of 4,500 per country are required to participate in the test. Shanghai placed #1 on test results, but Shanghai is not a country. Approximately 35% of Chinese students do not make it to high school.
Singapore: Few test high achievers are worldbeaters 20 years later
Singapore is in #2 position on PISA results. With a population of 4,424,133, the central government controls and manages the country’s school system, which includes technical and vocational training schools for high school students. The language of instruction in Singapore is English. The United States has a population of 308,400,408 and individual states control educational standards and testing initiatives. The FCAT is an example of a state-centric exam.
Journalist Fareed Zakaria interviewed Singapore's Minister of Education, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, asking for an explanation of "the fact that even though Singapore's students do so brilliantly on these tests, when you look at these same students 10 or 20 years later, few of them are worldbeaters anymore. Singapore has few truly top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives or academics. American kids, by contrast, test much worse in the fourth and eighth grades but seem to do better later in life and in the real world. Why?"
“We both have meritocracies,” Shanmugaratnam said. “Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well ─ like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America.”
China changes its system to develop more like Bill Gates
Tom Walkins, a former Michigan state Superintendent of Michigan Schools, is now a consultant and travels frequently to China. He says that the Chinese are changing to be more like the U.S.
He says Chinese educators, historically trained to deliver a top-down education that relied heavily on standardized testing and rote memorization, now focus almost obsessively on two things: creativity and innovation.
In China, "the biggest question is, 'How do we create Bill Gates?' " he says. "Everywhere I go, from meeting with a minister of education to being out in the countryside, that's what they're striving for." Oddly enough, he says, China's transformation has taken place over the past nine years — exactly as long as U.S. schools have been grappling with NCLB. "While we're moving closer to their historical model, they're looking at ways to pull away," he says.
Lomax repeats the narrative from testing proponents that instruction is the problem. This particular argument is not supported with evidence, but used frequently in the last few years.
There is no question that accountability is necessary. Testing has always been a part of the educational experience. The information that is obtained from the international tests has value and the recent results confirm what we have already known for sometime without this test data. There is a widening student achievement gap based on socio-economic factors. This gap is a serious problem and needs a targeted solution; but a meaningful solution does not equal to a testing obsession. Turning our educational system into an "exam meritocracy" is no goal at all and harmful to what has made this nation a global leader.
Parents are not the only ones realizing they've been sold a bag of goods. Taxpayers are asking questions. There are rarely answers and less honesty. Pennsylvania parents who choose to opt-out are doing the right thing.