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New tests in high schools? They have enough already.

Yeah, Fairport Superintendent William Cala. It sounds like he's gotten to the Standardistos at USA Today editorial--on high school policy, anyway. Maybe there's hope. Maybe one of these days these fellows will see what harm NCLB is doing to elementary schools.

Wednesday's big education news was a promising uptick in fourth- and eighth-grade math scores, but mixed results in reading scores.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says those “encouraging” trends prove that accountability through testing works. Now, she adds, it's time to apply more testing requirements to high schools.

Time out. Ask students, parents and administrators what's wrong with America's high schools, and “not enough tests” isn't likely to top anyone's list.

Spellings has good reason to retain faith in the federal “No Child Left Behind” law's annual testing requirement for grades 3-8, with results broken out by race and income.

For too many years, poor and minority children, particularly, were allowed to drift along uneducated. They dropped out quietly or graduated with worthless diplomas. With its stiff accountability, the federal law has done an impressive job of exposing schools that educated only the easy-to-educate students.

So why not expand the federally required high school testing from one year to three years, as Spellings proposes?

The answer is that unlike younger students, high schoolers already suffer from testing overkill. While a certain amount of testing is needed to help measure progress and identify failing schools, too much of a good thing will undercut public support for reform.

Consider the students at Fairport High School outside Rochester, N.Y. They take the five state Regents tests: math, science, English and two in social studies. Nearly all take the SAT college placement test. Half of those take the ACT admissions test. By their senior year, most students will also have taken two Advanced Placement exams.

Wait. There's more. The 50 students in the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) program take all the above-mentioned tests plus demanding end-of-course IB exams.

“We're well beyond being awash in tests,” says Fairport Superintendent William Cala. “We're over our heads in tests.”

In Georgia, students take “End of Course” tests in English, math, science and social studies in every high school grade. Plus the 11th-grade state writing test. Many also take the SAT, the PSAT warm-up to the SAT and those AP exams.

There are better uses for the $250 million a year the U.S. Department of Education wants to spend on more high school testing.

Tracking what a student took in high school, and matching it to testing and college records, would give principals a way to assess which course loads are most effective. Or, the department could help states follow the California example of combining a state assessment with college placement exams. That way, students get an early read on whether they qualify for college coursework.

Improvements like those would add value — not another burden.

— Editorial
USA Today


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