Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Students Are Feeling So Testy

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Students Are Feeling So Testy

Article excerpt

Do higher scores mean U.S. students are learning more or "testing" better?

DID YOUR KID'S SEEM ESPECIALLY RELIEVED THIS year when that final class bell rang for summer recess? The explanation for the heightened level of academic angst may lie at the newly sharpened point of a number two pencil.

American school children are rightly testy of late. They're stressed out by the battery of standardized achievement tests school administrators are deploying in classrooms across the country. So-called high stakes tests--exams they must pass in order to move on to succeeding grades, graduate from high school, or otherwise determine the course of their entire future--are familiarizing our students with a world of anxiety and despair previously the jittery domain of the hyperstressed Japanese student body.

Standardized testing could serve a useful role as a general barometer of students' academic performance or as a tool to diagnose areas where individual students may require more attention. Unfortunately, those are not the only two forces loosening the avalanche of computer forms.

Politicians, once so determined to "get tough on crime" that the United States now holds a larger inmate population than Ming the Merciless, have discovered a new way to get reelected. They're getting tough on education, and they've decided that the quickest way to prove their mettle is to torment the academic lives of unsuspecting school children with generic, standardized tests that critics say may only prove how well students perform on generic, standardized tests.

Contributing to the new reliance on testing has been a shift in school-reform leadership away from education professionals to "goal oriented" former business executives. These guys may not know a lot about learning, but they do know how to get results. They've decided that the easiest way to chart the "success" of school reform is to follow the numbers disgorged by testing. But rating education strictly by the numbers is the wrong way to measure a process as complex as learning, and teaching kids how to memorize facts and remember dates is an altogether different achievement from teaching them how to make sense out of new ideas and experiences. …

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