Time to test limits of what schools test

Saturday, March 27, 2004


Here's the problem: America's schools are sending into the world too many graduates who cannot read or write well and who do not have some of the basic knowledge needed to make them good workers and good citizens.

Here is what politicians and educational bureaucrats have come up with as a solution: tests.

The theory is that all students can and should be brought up to minimum standards of competency and the only way to judge if such a goal is being achieved is through periodic testing. Then, these tests can be used to identify and punish schools and teachers that have failed to get all their students up to standards.

The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) is this state's chosen tool to gauge learning progress. The No Child Left Behind Act is the new national law that uses state tests, such as the WASL, to enforce accountability by taking away funding from schools that fail to achieve state goals.

In the gap between theory and reality, though, there are numerous problems. Among them:

* Preoccupation with meeting uniform standards drives funding and teaching time toward only that narrow stretch of knowledge covered by the tests.

* Otherwise good schools with unique student challenges are punished by an inflexible system that relies too much on abstract numeric measurements.

* All tests are not the same, so schools in states with high standards, such as Washington, lose more federal dollars than schools in states with easy tests.

* The creativity and diversity that have been the driving force of American innovation in everything from technology to the arts are stifled by a system that assumes all students need the same kind of education with the same outcome.

This is a Burning Question if there ever was one:

Do you think the WASL and the No Child Left Behind Act are the answer to our educational problems?

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