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President's Viewpoint

The Difference Between Testing and Measuring

"One test score is like a dashboard’s 'check engine' light. We know something is wrong, but not how to fix it." --Lily Eskelsen Garcia

In this issue of NEA Today we celebrate the Class of 2015—graduates who grew up in the era of No Child Left Behind, when “drill and kill” and “teaching to the test” became household phrases in education—and the educators who help students prepare for a bright future.

Today’s graduates are defined by test scores. Too many were segregated in high-poverty schools. They were stripped of the rich curriculum that makes school a place of discovery and creativity. Still, they persevered.

These students deserve a standing ovation, while No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the culture of testing, and other misguided education policies that threw roadblocks in their path deserve rotten tomatoes.

NCLB has been the law of the land for 12 years—a burden this year’s graduates dragged through their entire public school experience. The law helped perpetuate a legacy of racial bias and poverty with “test and punish” measures targeting high-poverty schools. It caused schools with the most limited resources to cut back on history, art, music and physical education, simply because they aren’t covered on standardized tests.

Preparation for tests mandated by NCLB has robbed students of quality one-on-one time with teachers. It has snatched recess time from our youngest students, forcing them to spend time preparing for tests. This, when we know the positive effect of exercise on learning. And students have been shortchanged for what? A higher test score.

But one test score is like a dashboard’s “check engine” light. We know something is wrong, but not how to fix it.

Let’s develop an entire dashboard of indicators that monitor better measures of success for the whole child — a critical, creative mind, a healthy body, an ethical character. And we need indicators of each student’s opportunities to learn — what programs, services and resources are available?

Success should be measured from preschool to high school, but a standardized test tells us so little. We want to know which students are succeeding in Advanced Placement and honors programs. We can measure that.

We want to know which students have certified, experienced teachers and access to the support professionals they need, such as tutors, librarians, school nurses and counselors. That can be measured, too.

We want to know which students have access to arts and athletic programs. Which middle school students are succeeding in science, technology, engineering and math tracks that will get them into advanced high school courses, which will get them into a university. All of that is measurable.

As we celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2015, we must promise to do better for those who will follow in their footsteps. Let’s work together to create an “opportunity dashboard”—one with supports, interventions and, most importantly, milestones that we can truly measure.


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