Then there are the "statewide support" assessments the department offers. There are eight of those -- Acuity, Creative Curriculum, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS -- ubiquitous in elementary schools), Riverdeep, techSteps, TestMate Clarity, Odyssey and West Virginia Writes. They are variously described as means for "guiding students toward improved student achievement in the classroom and on high-stakes tests."
While districts are not required to avail themselves of these "supports," I'm aware of none that decline to do so. Test prep is too important in the current environment to not give students every possible opportunity to increase their scores.
But how much time is left for learning anything other than what's on the test? How much time is left for exploring, expanding, probing? For deep learning?
Kenneth Bernstein, a newly retired high school teacher, recently published a commentary that has been distributed widely on the Internet and reprinted in The Washington Post. His message? Prepare yourselves, colleges and universities: Students educated under the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies are coming your way.
As numerous higher education faculty are aware, however, those students are already here, courtesy of an even older "reform" initiative -- the 1983 Nation at Risk report that recommended that the country "adopt more rigorous and measurable standards." Almost without exception, these students are, while mostly capable, utterly unprepared for the very practices such "reform" efforts have claimed to emphasize: critical or higher-order thinking, problem-solving skills, practical application of theoretical concepts, outside-the-box creativity, and the ability to both learn independently and work collaboratively.
Bernstein wrote at length about what many college professors, undergraduate and graduate, know from experience. The standardized-testing juggernaut has so dominated elementary and secondary education in the United States that even students at elite public and private schools are astonishing their professors with their inability to write coherent sentences or articulate a logical thought.
No one faults teachers. The terms of teaching dictated by punitive testing practices gives them little choice but to teach what's on the test and little, if anything, else. Still, the obsession with scores has undermined the ability of students to transform the facts they've learned into ideas, to develop those ideas into arguments, and to defend those arguments with credible evidence. And they're equally unable to articulate their thoughts in either speech or writing.
Perhaps policymakers, some of them anyway, genuinely believed test-taking would serve as an effective accountability measure and would make the United States more internationally competitive, although frankly I think this gives them too much credit.
The fact is that if we wanted schools where students learn to think critically, solve problems in a creative fashion, become independent learners and yet work collaboratively, we'd have them. It isn't that we don't know how to design such schools. It's that policymakers don't want them.
Rather than students with nimble minds whose creativity can unleash an American renaissance -- socially, politically, economically -- policymakers want merely to have the highest test scores.
Policies allegedly designed to make students more "competitive" have instead sent an entire generation of them to college whose first question about an assignment is, "Is this going to be on the test?" Who, instead of pondering how they can creatively approach the paper, ask, "How many pages do I have to write?" "Are there certain terms you're looking for?" "Does spelling count?"
It's the ultimate victory of low expectations. What hypocrisy.
This can't be what we want. Can it?
Nicholson is a professor of leadership studies at Marshall University's Graduate School of Education and Professional Development.