Since 2002, when No Child Left Behind became law, states have spent millions of dollars giving standardized reading and math tests; one estimate puts the total cost above $5 billion through 2008.
The law requires that about half of all students take the tests and that schools improve each spring so they can stay off federal “needs improvement” lists. Many educators say that’s turning schools into test-prep factories where history, science and even recess get shortchanged.
Linda Perlstein, a former Washington Post reporter, wanted to see the effects firsthand, so she spent an academic year inside a high-poverty elementary school in Annapolis, Md.
The result is Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade. USA TODAY’s Greg Toppo talks with her about testing:
Q: You spent a year getting to know kids at Tyler Heights Elementary School. How did this change your outlook on their education and tests?
A: I don’t have a problem with testing children. I have a problem with thinking test results tell you most of what you need to know. They simply don’t — these tests are often very narrow instruments. Where reforms have forced educators to notice children who might otherwise have been neglected, I give credit. But I wrote this book because school reforms intended to abolish a two-class system were in some ways exacerbating it. There’s one world where students pass the test as a matter of course and get to write poems, and another where children write paragraphs about poems.
Meanwhile, there’s supposed to be a movement in American schools to educate each child as an individual. The teachers at Tyler Heights work mightily to do that, but they have to get everybody to the same place in the same amount of time, and follow daily curriculum agendas handed down from above.