Friday, April 20, 2012

How Testing Hurts Disadvantaged Kids

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Fixing NCLB: How Testing Hurts Disadvantaged Kids
By Renee Moore
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"I’ve been part of a group of determined teachers from around the nation working to engage in direct discussions with the Obama administration about its blueprint for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known for the past decade as No Child Left Behind). Some of us thought it might be a good time to write about issues related to the Blueprint, and why we think seeking the expertise of successful teachers might help lawmakers develop better policies.
One of the first points identified by teachers as a problem is that the proposed plan continues to place an emphasis on high-stakes accountability through standardized test scores. What's wrong with a big focus on test scores? Don't we need to know how students are performing?
I'm going to revisit a past post from my blog TeachMoore as I begin to answer. Here’s what I wrote:

I recently had opportunity to talk with some parents, including some who were my former students. One of the most profound and disturbing discussions was with a young mother I'll call Debra. Fourteen years ago, Debra had been in my high school English class, and managed to graduate just a few days before her daughter was born. Debra's life, which had never been easy, took a deeply tragic turn five years ago when that child was murdered.

Sitting next to me at the health program, we watched her other child, 9-year-old Donnell, sit passively through what was otherwise a lively group discussion. She shared with me her concerns that he was growing increasingly frustrated with school, and more and more withdrawn. Donnell had serious learning disabilities that affected his language and reading skills. According to Debra, his Individual Education Plan and previous tests indicated that he could handle the equivalent of 1st, maybe 2nd grade work. But the newly enacted changes in special education placement and testing to meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress guidelines required that he be moved to an inclusion setting and tested with the 4th graders. She had tried, unsuccessfully, to talk with the special education staff, even the superintendent, along with some other concerned mothers of special needs children, about giving him a more gradual transition.

"I don't understand," she said nearly in tears, "why they insist on giving him work and a test that they know he's not ready for yet? He thinks he is stupid, and he's ready to give up on school," at 9 years old.

She's been to the school 15 times this year already. His new teacher, with an already overcrowded classroom, is struggling to give Donnell the extra help he needs while not neglecting the others. Both women are frustrated and angry with the system.

Donnell's story has been repeated all over the country with tens of thousands of special-needs students. The focus on test scores and the over-reliance on them to determine student learning has led to this widespread abuse."