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WHAT WE THINK
Time to flunk standardized testing

May 25, 2001 | Page 3

FOR GROWING numbers of students around the country, May has become the month of do-or-die tests. More and more school districts require students to take "high-stakes" tests at the end of the school year--which determine whether they graduate or move on to higher grades.

High-stakes exams are the centerpiece of the Bush administration's education proposal, now under discussion in Congress--and Democrats have fallen over one another to offer their support.

Yet this mania for testing is "not only moving against the tide of expert advice and research, but increasingly [is] out of sync with the pulse of the public on this issue," said Karen Hartke of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Even makers of standardized tests have issued disclaimers discouraging schools from using them as the sole standard for deciding whether students should graduate.

One reason is because of the clear evidence of class and racial bias in standardized tests. In one example, the statewide test for Massachusetts seventh-graders this year asked kids to describe their experience with community service. When students from working-class Lynn wrote about community service not as volunteer work but as the punishment you get from court when you don't get jail time, they were penalized for giving the "wrong" answer!

All the evidence shows that high-stakes tests lead to higher dropout rates. But testing supporters don't care about that, says Bill Gallegos of the Coalition for Educational Justice in Los Angeles. "They're simply aimed at sorting out students and--along with retention policies that push out our students--getting rid of problem kids," Gallegos said on the syndicated radio program Democracy Now!

The result for students is a high-pressure environment that's "literally making many children sick," say four of the country's leading psychologists. And with testing increasingly used to judge their performance, teachers are forced to tailor classes to help students pass tests.

But this spring has seen an increasingly active opposition to testing--with demonstrations in Albany, N.Y., suburban New York City, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Detroit, California's Bay Area and dozens of other cities.

These protests are focusing attention on the real problem with our schools. After all, the chief argument for testing is that it will make teachers and administrators "accountable." But that lets the real culprits off the hook--the politicians who have starved schools of funds.

This year's mini-rebellion over testing is a key step in the fight to stop the politicians from finding scapegoats to escape responsibility for the education crisis.

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