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2014:A Space Odyssey...sort of

Depending on what draft of the NCLB you are looking at, in either 2013 or 2014, all public schools are supposed to have reached 100% proficiency in the areas of Math and English. In 2001, that deadline seemed so far away. Now that it is around the corner, what will happen to the US education system because of it? What are other cultures saying about us going so "test crazy"?

It is not uncommon to hear teachers gripe about how they are limited in what they can teach because they have to "teach to the test." Teachers feel cramped by state standards and meeting the deadline of state exams. They claim that they do not have time to be creative, use technology, or go into depth about certain topics because they have too much material to cover before the big test day. Teachers know that data will be gathered and analyzed, reflecting a job well done or not well done, by administrators, the county they work in, and the state. It is no secret that the scores on the students' papers affect how a teacher, school, district, and county are viewed and judged by the outside world. Standardized tests create stress for everyone involved in the educational system, and requiring all students to reach proficiency in the areas of Math and English by 2014 or 2041, is an unrealistic expectation that will leave most children behind or force states to totally dilute their standards to the point of no recognition.

Unlike the United States, China, a country which has been known for its rigorous education system, has begun a transformation. They have had a testing culture for thousands of years and now are trying to reverse it. The past fall, ASCD published Catching Up or Leading the Way (Zhao, 2009) which discusses what is wrong and what is right with the American education system and where it should be going. Zhao, who was raised and schooled in China, believes the federal government should stop endorsing standardized testing and instead reward schools for offering a diverse set of opportunities - from art to auto shop. According to Zhao, accountability should be "input-based" rather than "output-based," with schools being graded on whether they provide safe and clean facilities and a learning environment that provides global learning opportunities.

Zhao is one of many writers who share this belief...so why is the US bent on using multiple choice tests? We are using broken tests and methods to try and designate a label of "proficiency" that lacks the true meaning of the word. So instead of just throwing stones, how do we get to more of a performance based assessment that could be rolled out on a massive scale? It will not be easy but with the technology that is available, it can be done. In fact, there are some models that already exist that could be rolled out. One that is getting a lot of attention is Project Appleseed, but this is only one. Other states are heavily investigating trying to go to performance based assessment but are hard pressed on how to meet the demands and requirements of NCLB.

So, if we really have to get to 100% proficiency, let's make it true proficiency and make sure we are testing the right thing.

Teresa Ivey and James Yap

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