by Peter Henry in the Fall 2007 issue of the Minnesota English Journal.
Read and share this award winning article by teacher Peter Henry, one of the founding members of the Educator Roundtable. The article won an award from the Minnesota English Journal in 2007.
From the article...
[The ninth and tenth of twelve principal harms which] ﬂow from the high-stakes, measurable accountability movement in U.S. education policy. Each contributes its share to making schools a less than welcoming and dynamic place for young people, but, taken cumulatively, they are conspiring to make the experience of school something that children learn to hate. (References - in parenthesis - are available in the original document)
9. The higher the stakes, the lower the bar.
High-stakes standardized tests are not good measures of academic excellence. As mentioned previously, they measure a narrow band of logical sequence operations which are useful only for taking further exams. In fact, because states are under tremendous pressure to show that their academic programs are working, the truth is that state exams are becoming less and less demanding.(49) It is a truism: just as in gym class where every student must jump over a bar at some minimum height, the temptation is to continually lower the bar until a vast majority can make it. This is not driving the system toward Olympian heights of excellence; on the contrary, it is driving the system toward lower and lower levels of acceptability. Why is it that some states like Georgia and North Carolina have such remarkable pass rates on their State-wide exams but such a dismal pass-rate on the NAEP exam?(50) The answer is that high-stakes exam bars are not set very high, and are certainly not indicative of students who are ready for college, work or the complex demands of being an adult. Look at the amount of remedial instruction now required on college campuses before students can even begin taking introductory classes. On the route of trying to measure and prove academic excellence, we are guaranteeing ourselves a progressively larger share of mediocrity. We are being dumbed- down in a systematic, organized and expensive way.
10. Shallow is as shallow does.
The American public’s perception of how public education is performing continues to slide in an era of standardized testing. Surveys conﬁ rm that Americans view public education unfavorably, saying that standards are too lax and that students are leaving with low skill-levels.(51) Interestingly, when the same respondents are asked about their own public school, the one at which they send their children, their perceptions are that the school performs quite well.(52) In other words, it is the “other” schools that aren’t doing well, the ones that are educating “other” children. No doubt, media coverage of school shootings, falling test scores and inadequate supplies and resources contribute to a general perception that schools are failing. But even when the news is apparently good, when pass rates or test scores move up, the public is being encouraged to believe in a very shallow and unreliable measure of what makes for a “quality” education.(53) As much as students are being dumbed-down by the lowered bar of high-stakes exams, their parents and the public are being asked to swallow whole that the complex, interrelated and open-ended process of education can be reduced to a single number, up or down, black or white. Standardized exams are equally adept at dumbing-down the American public—the very ones being asked at election-time to vote on school-funding levels, school-board candidates, and—yes, sadly—even presidential candidates.
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