Editorial: Get Congress out of standardized testing

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011


It’s good to hear that some leaders in Washington hope to alter the No Child Left Behind Act so that it gets rid of the standardized testing requirement. The landmark 2002 federal law did a fine job of teaching educators and administrators to speak the political language of accountability, but since its passage in 2002 and subsequent modifications, it has done little to actually improve education in the United States of America.

Standardized testing is good for assessing the progress of a child’s education and determining where to go next. That is, if the test is a diagnosis-type test. However, standardized testing — the types done to comply with NCLB — is seriously flawed. These tests aim to determine how a classroom, a school or a district stands in educating children. They are flawed partially because they encourage schools to teach to the test and partially because they fail to consider the contribution parents make or, more pointedly, fail to make. Teaching to the test only builds memorization skills, rather than understanding context, opinions and social aspects.

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Moreover, the No Child Left Behind Act and various state-level measures have done a good job of discouraging young professionals from entering the teacher workforce, harming the American education system even more.

These measures say this: “We want you to be highly educated, but then we will control every little thing you do and hold you accountable despite many factors far out of your control.”

Who wants to work in that environment?

Despite the good intentions, we doubt Congress will pass changes to NCLB because of the great partisan divide. Still, the federal government would be better off leaving K-12 education to the states. And states would be better off leaving testing decisions up to school boards. Local control works.

What the federal government can do, however, is expand its efforts with early childhood education. If the USA is ever to catch up with other countries on tests, it needs to do what the other countries are doing: Placing their children into educational settings at earlier ages. If a child is learning the alphabet in kindergarten, that child already is behind. They should show up that first day knowing all the letters, among other basic skills.

Perhaps America needs the No Child Starts Behind Act.