When the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, was signed into law in 2001 by President George W. Bush, it supported education reform based around strict standards and standardized testing. The standards-based reform movement supported by the No Child Left Behind Act was greeted with high support when it was signed into law. It provided standardized assessment and held schools accountable for educating students in a country whose education as been, admittedly, lackluster. It held schools accountable for the students, but what did NCLB mean for teachers and students themselves?
There are a lot of supporters and detractors of standards. The world is rapidly changing, and parents wanted their children to be in the best possible position with the highest level of education and skill possible to function in today’s globalized economy. Standards seek to do exactly what the name implies: standardize education so that, whether a student was learning from one teacher or another, they would be able to take the same test and succeed. Not all students have the same access to education even within the same courses because of different teaching styles and content.
One of the positive aspects of standardize tests is that it provides both teachers and students with clear goals and purposes for their education. Standardize tests have explicit goals that students are supposed to be learning and that teachers are supposed to be teaching. All of the goals and expectations of the students and teachers are very clear, and because they are so clear, students have a better understanding of what is expected of them and they know what to do and how to do. When students know how they are going to be assessed, or graded, with what they are learning, they are often much more able to achieve those goals.
Though in theory the idea of having standardized tests seems nice, there has been a lot of backlash from teachers themselves. As previously mentioned, one of the goals of standardize tests are to make sure that, no matter the teacher, the student should be able to succeed despite the teachers having different skills and styles. Teachers believe that the standardized tests take the teaching style out of their hands and it is becoming a more impersonal way of teaching.
Teachers have often complained that they must now “teach to the test” as a result of standardized testing. What this means is that teachers, and to a larger degree the schools themselves, have little say in what type of content is being taught to the students. Typically an educator’s interests and background will drive some of the content that the students are taught, but as a result of standardized tests they are no longer in control of the type of content they teach, but instead it is not up to “faceless” politicians and others who are not currently down on the personal level with students.
Teachers also believe that, because the tests are standardized and are supposed to hold schools accountable, that the tests themselves are too difficult and are not age appropriate. Despite the fact that the tests are supposed to be for the general public and state-wide, they are still too difficult for the average student and it reflects poorly on the state and the schools when the students don’t do well on what teachers consider not age appropriate tests. The teachers also believe that the tests are either too specific or too vague, meaning that they are either including very minor details that are seemingly unimportant or so broad and conceptual that any analysis or higher-level thinking is left out.
The biggest problem for teachers, students, and parents alike is the idea of “high-stakes testing,” or that the entirety of the student’s high school career depends on one test. Most educators believe that using multiple tests, and a variety of ways to test, instead of a single test to decide whether or not a student gets his diploma. Standardize tests are a hotly contested topic: should the standards be set higher for better education and risk having students fail or should the standards be lower and have students unprepared after taking tests that may not even add up to a college entrance exam?
“A Practical Guide to Middle and Secondary Social Studies” by June Chapin