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 fifth and sixth 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)
5. We are ruining brains.
Brain development is perhaps the most pressing reason why we need to rethink our current high-stakes testing mania. By age 9 or so, young people have the physical structure—the hardware, if you will—of their brain in place. Over the next ten to twelve years it is crucial that they actively utilize different brain functions—develop the software—in order for it to reach its maximum potential.(36) Structured complexity in the classroom, an enriched array of choices and modes of assessment, varied social groupings all contribute to growing the brain in particularly fruitful ways. And so does creating an environment in which adequate time, physical activity and low stress levels are baseline considerations.(37-38) Similarly, the aesthetic appreciation found in music and the arts as well as more contemplative activities like spirituality and compassion are not things that happen without schools making them a priority, or at least a possibility.(39) All of these are currently being shunted aside in our mad rush to increase test scores. As a result, we are in danger of producing a generation of learners who cannot critically think, appreciate the arts, nor marvel at the profound mysteries of our universe. And, tragically, once these abilities are neglected long enough, up through the age of 24 or so, there is less of a chance that they will ever be fully integrated into a person’s intellectual repertoire.
6. Exams merely ratify the achievement gap.
The oft-stated purpose of NCLB is to narrow the achievement gap between whites and students of color. Yet, we know, and have known for a long time, that the most reliable predictor of a student’s standardized test score is the square-footage of their principal residence.(40) In other words, students of afﬂuent families almost universally score higher on exams than do students in under-privileged homes. Researchers have found that by the age of six, children in afﬂuent families have been exposed to fully 2 million more words than have been children in more trying circumstances.(41) They are more likely to have been read to regularly, engaged in enrichment activities like travel and museums and also to have had access to adequate nutrition and health-care. Is it any wonder that there is a substantial achievement gap when there is a veritable gulf of difference between the haves and the have-nots in America? (I don’t even understand why we are surprised by this.) But to then take the one reliable instrument which has always privileged well-to-do students and make it the basis of comparison and academic achievement for every kid in America is simply to lock in place existing inequities. Poor children are, by far, more likely to drop out, have a stressful home-life, get suspended, repeatedly move and change schools, run afoul of the law and act out during class.(42) They are also least likely to be interested in or motivated by abstract questions or the need to score highly on an instrument far removed from their personal experience. We are not closing the achievement gap under NCLB as major research studies have shown,(43) but, rather, we are conﬁrming and institutionalizing at the level of policy how real and profound are the differences between rich and poor.
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