Test-score mania overshadows everything else
By Patti Ghezzi
Friday, May 31, 2002
The verdict: Lowlights of the standardized testing craze you won't hear on Curriculum Night at your child's elementary school.
Forget such fun activities as finger painting. Kindergarten today is where the quest for high standards begins, and to get there requires worksheets, pre-tests and post-tests.
Recess, too, is going the way of the Lincoln Logs as a kindergarten staple. "Standardistas" and "testocrats" don't see how turning cartwheels on the playground will raise test scores.
For What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? author Susan Ohanian collected anecdotes from newspapers, Internet message boards and conversations with teachers and parents, some of whom fear their opposition to testing will jeopardize their jobs and subject their children to retribution.
A favorite illustration she recounts it twice is a 1998 front-page New York Times story about an Atlanta elementary school with no playground. The story quotes a little girl who longs to take a break and look for ladybugs, but then-superintendent Benjamin Canada says that would interfere with the school district's pursuit of high standards.
Ohanian, retired and living in Vermont, taught in public schools for 20 years. She says the demand for "world class schools," driven by business leaders who know little about children and education, has whipped schools into a test-taking frenzy.
"Test prep has become the curriculum," Ohanian writes. "Willing partners in this swindle include the test developers, consultant call girls ever-willing to pimp for the latest gimmick, corporate CEOs who form august committees calling for the need for each state to prove theirs is bigger and better, political minions who line up to provide whatever legislation is needed, and the media pundits who scream 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' "
The result: Parents throw test-prep birthday parties. Teachers spend more time drilling for tests than teaching. Kids tote home hours' worth of repetitive homework while their parents surf the Internet for advice on helping kids manage stress. Students who can't pass the tests get forced into summer school, held back and demoralized until they quit.
As a teacher, Ohanian used riddle books to turn reluctant readers into lovers of language. Test-prep booklets encourage kids to plow through inane, short passages for the sole purpose of answering multiple-choice questions.
Many of these testing tales of the have-we-lost-our-minds variety have already made the rounds, such as the veteran Gwinnett County teacher who's fighting for his teaching credentials after posting used questions from the district's Gateway exam on the Internet.
Ohanian shows how schools use test data to make decisions based on murky world-class standards. Sadly, the testing culture has tied the hands of many teachers who can no longer make decisions based on what's best for the child, such as 20 minutes of recess.
Patti Ghezzi writes about education for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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