Friday, April 13, 2007

Standardized Testing - Again!

This is an excerpt of the article titled below, originally from 3/26/2007:

Heat is on with school testing
Students caught between Sacramento's rising demands, feds' No Child Left Behind Act
By Sharon Noguchi

Ready. Set. Go fill in those bubbles.

California's students are sharpening their No. 2 pencils for the spring testing season, which kicks into high gear Tuesday. That's when the state Department of Education will release school rankings from last year's STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) tests and goals for this year's round.

With government upping the ante by setting goals and threatening to punish schools that don't make the grade, standardized tests play a bigger role in public schools than ever. Starting in second grade, students practice taking timed multiple-choice exams. By fourth grade, teachers must ensure that their students master 110 skills in language arts and math.

Increasingly, many teachers and administrators feel they're caught in a vise, pressured by the rising demands of Sacramento and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Although schools have long administered standardized tests, a decade ago they took on greater significance. Eager to calm a public upset about students who couldn't read or do math, California legislators created benchmarks that ramp up annually.

Schools now have about four weeks left to teach new concepts and skills, reinforce previous lessons and give practice tests before the annual STAR tests are given in late April or early May.

When scores come out in late August, schools examine their federal and state marks to see where students soared andwhere they fell flat. Teachers use the results to decide how to teach in the new school year.

Neither the state nor the federal government makes any allowances for tougher-to-teach children.

The state does consider where schools start and gives them credit for rising scores.

"Our goals are much more realistic," said Bob Bernstein, the state's testing chief.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act expects every student in every school to achieve the same level. Every year the law demands increasing percentages of students attain proficiency in language and math. But it leaves it to the states to define proficiency.

But supporters of No Child Left Behind, both liberals and conservatives, maintain that its title says it all. Schools must educate every child, regardless of circumstances, to meet high standards.

Educators agree with the vision. But many teachers wonder how multiple-choice testing will achieve it. What, they ask, is gained by forcing students who don't understand English to take tests they don't comprehend?

Federal and state laws also mandate that special-education students take the same tests as other students.

For state standards, each school is expected to grow from 5 to 30 points each year — the lower the score, the higher the expectations — until they score at least 800 out of 1,000 possible points. In addition, various clusters of students — classified by ethnicity, poverty or language — must achieve the same gains.

When the state enacted high-stakes tests in the early 1990s, it promised to measure learning in different ways, to see what students can do in a real context. For example: Could they write a letter to a grandparent? Or figure out how much wood and mesh they'd need to build a rabbit pen?

After a short-lived attempt in the mid-1990s at such "real-world assessment," the state opted for the strictly multiple-choice STAR tests.

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