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Education reform starts with our teachers

By Brennan Atkins

In December 2020, President Joseph R. Biden said at a public education forum, “Teaching to a test underestimates and discounts the things that are most important for students to learn.”

However, in February 2021, Biden contradicted himself and announced that standardized testing for public schools would continue despite being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Education conveyed that results from the tests wouldn’t be held against schools. However, some educators are understandably frustrated with the Biden administration.

Standardized testing is a faulty indicator of student success as it fails to account for the variables that may be preventing students from thriving in an academic environment. Administering the same test to every student may seem fair on paper, but that fails to consider difficult living situations, racial prejudice, and economic barriers.

Aspects of a child that only teachers are able to see.

There has been an ongoing conversation among parents, teachers, and lawmakers about the need for standardized testing and what role it plays in a child’s education.

President Barack Obama also said students were being over tested. But he, like Biden, did not back up his words with actions.

In 2002, President George W. Bush enacted the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which gave the government more control in determining what would be on the test, as well as holding schools and teachers responsible for lower test scores by threatening education institutions with harsh financial punishments.

In 2015, this evolved into the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which maintained the strict

standardized testing model without harsh punishment. Instead, schools that were \agged for falling behind would be given additional funding to boost standardized testing scores.

This is funding that is often spent on new teaching programs, textbooks, and any latest trend with promises to improve student scores. If these are sold to the public as effective tools in increasing student scores, then why haven’t we seen the results?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that math scores across the United States have stagnated since 2015, and reading scores as far back as 1998. Only about a third of students are considered to be “proficient” by NAEP standards.

Not to mention the fact that NCLB and ESSA have systematically ignored teachers whose classes fall outside the content of the test – why should the funding of an art class be dependent on whether students placed well in math?

For the last 20 years, lawmakers have spent an exorbitant amount of money on attempting to produce better scores from students, rather than stepping back and asking if the test itself is the problem.

Instead of directing funds toward standardized testing, lawmakers need to shift the focus from a school district’s average test score to services that will provide a well-rounded education for each individual.

Standardized testing has created an environment in which we focus more on a student’s future than recognizing the subtle accomplishments of everyday learning. Teachers want a relationship with their students. They want to nurture a student’s interest and lead them toward a path to success.

Our current education model fails to reward teachers for wanting this, and students are the ones facing the consequences. Respect the teachers in your community, as low test scores can be completely independent of their diligence and willingness to engage with their classes.

Standardized testing is deeply rooted in today’s curriculum, and a focus on becoming a “college-ready” student is implanted into children at an incredibly young age. If a student were to show proficiency in an area that falls outside the curriculum, there would be no way to communicate that knowledge through a test.

The only people who can truly foster a child’s interest to learn are the teachers themselves.

In fact, a University of Chicago study titled “High School GPAs and ACT Scores as Predictors of College Completion” suggested that a student’s GPA may be more accurate in determining whether they are college ready as opposed to standardized testing.

Recognizing the true potential of American teachers is among the many steps toward educational reform.

A test score doesn’t notice if a student is struggling with food insecurity.

A test score doesn’t see if a student can’t concentrate.

A test score doesn’t recognize a student who excels in something other than math, science, or English.

The relationship between student and teacher is both invaluable and underappreciated – we need to put a student’s education back in the hands of the people who truly know how to help them best.

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