Friday, August 14, 2009

Testing and the False Promise of Educational Improvement

As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg moves toward near certain reelection, an interesting article appeared in the New York Times last week, looking at his stewardship of the public school system: The numbers look impressive. This year, 82 percent of city students passed statewide tests in math and 69 percent in English, up from 42 and 38 percent, respectively, in 2002. Staten Island and Queens have seen dramatic rises in comparison to other New York counties, and even the lowly Bronx is improving. And the racial gap has declined when measured by the number of students passing.

Yet the numbers are deceiving when one delves deeper. For one thing, it appears that the increase in passing rates relates more to making the tests easier rather than any real improvement in student performance. For another, the actual racial gap in scores has not changed much. This was made clear when looking at the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which showed that eighth graders showed little improvement in reading or math. So what’s the story? As with many neoliberal reforms, testing justifies a shift to a curriculum based on testing, narrowed away from a broader, more holistic approach. Yet the tests don’t really measure student performance or what they’re learning in a real sense. The push to hold schools accountable leads state leaders to simply cook the books and make sure they are showing improvement – even if it means little. The improvements then legitimates the very system the tests themselves are undermining.

So what is lost in the process? Art and music have fallen by the wayside. Culturally-relevant, engaging curriculum is sidelined (and in New York City, Bloomberg has instituted using the same textbooks and curriculum throughout the entire system). Progressive approaches to pedagogy are eliminated, as the lowest performing students are simply taught to take and pass the tests, by any means possible. Gone is civics education or broadening the mind. And in a period when obesity and Type II diabetes are on the rise, physical education is seriously curtailed. In the end, the neoliberal push for accountability ensures that all that is taught are basic skills and “core competencies,” leaving little room to address student’s social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth. Little time is left to bring joy and passion into the educational process. And even less is allotted to ensure that youth develop real critical thinking skills that can serve themselves and society in making the world a better place.

The push toward accountability and statistical success has essentially undermined the original goals of public schooling – to create an educated, informed public that can actively participate in society and democracy and to serve as the great equalizer that will make America a true meritocracy. In the process, NYC becomes a perfect exemplar of the old adage by Benjamin Disrael that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.


Anonymous said...

While this article makes some keen statements about the problems surrounding testing students to adequately rate progress and what such an intense focus on successful testing has done to the overall education of our students I am disappointed to see the author attribute all of this to "neoliberals." In my experience and research it is not the neoliberals that have put such impetus on testing and "core" subjects but the reactionary neoconservatives. NCLB was introduced by the previous administration. That law required proof of adequate yearly progress which eventually became a requirement of annual testing, the vehicle of which was to be determined by each state (to the satisfaction of the federal bureaucracy). Unfortunately, people who have never been trained in education have found the need to establish policy and then force those who have the training to try and implement the policy, as inane as it always seems to be. You cannot blame one "side of the aisle" or the other. Each point of view tries to achieve what they believe to be the right answer, sometimes jointly, without really enough experience or information to do so in an effective manner. Using your political BIAS to try and assert blame was really unnecessary and actually takes away from the substance from which (I hope) you were trying to make the point.

Spanish in Spain said...

Education is necessary for everybody, As you people said the percentage of marks are lesser in U.K and its going downfal, parents and teachers have to take some necessary steps to avoid this situations.Then only we can raise the education standards there.