Standardized tests get in the way of real education

Since the 2002–03 academic year, the No Child Left Behind Act tied federal school funding to student performances on standardized state tests. Now, the first students to have their entire educational experience impacted by this law are finishing high school. Colleges must now handle students who have been taught that learning is synonymous with passing a multiple-choice exam.

The act, meant to close the achievement gap by rewarding good tests scores financially, was established with good intentions but was poorly executed.

Recently retired high school teacher Kenneth Bernstein wrote an article in Academe, the journal of American Association of University Professors, highlighting the problems he saw in his students since the implementation of No Child Left Behind. He warns college professors not to blame high school teachers for the poor problem-solving skills they may see in students. Bernstein says student shortcomings stem from the act, not the teachers.

For potential college students, the fallout of this deficit in critical thinking skills does not vanish once they graduate from high school. Teaching to pass the test does not prepare students for higher education, and No Child Left Behind can have dire consequences for students once they graduate high school.

School districts across the nation have focused on teaching students how to pass the tests, rather than teaching them basic problem-solving skills, because a failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) can result in the loss of federal funding.

If a school district doesn’t meet its AYP mark for two consecutive years, students can transfer to nearby school districts.

If schools don’t meet the mark for six years, they risk being shut down or turned into charter schools.
Flaws aside, the No Child Left Behind Act came from the desire to properly educate all students. The act would serve school districts better if states did not threaten to shut a school down for failing to pass a certain percentage of students.

Instead of requiring test score improvement, states could provide committees to evaluate AYP scores with a focus on improving the underlying education plan. For school districts with lower AYP scores, the committees could help teachers develop better curricula. Ideally, the committees would work with those school districts until their AYP scores reflected the state average.

But as it stands, the No Child Left Behind Act forces schools to compete for funding. It’s time to reform this flawed act and teach for the sake of education.