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July 31, 2003

Why School Testing is Evil

"No Child Left Behind" (or as a reporter friend called it, "No Child Gets Out Alive") establishes the principle of collective punishment-- if enough people fail at a school, the whole school gets punished with the threat of losing aid and essentially being destroyed.

The idea is that this will make schools help the most underperforming students, but there's a simpler solution.

Get rid of bad students.

Which is what is happening in New York.

Growing numbers of students --most of them struggling academically -- are being pushed out of New York City's school system and classified under bureaucratic categories that hide their failure to graduate.
Officially the city's dropout rate hovers around 20 percent. But critics say that if the students who are pushed out were included, that number could be 25 to 30 percent...Even though state law gives students the right to stay in high school until they are 21, many students are being counseled, or even forced, to leave long before then.
This is treated as an unexpected problem, but testing has been leading to this problem for years.

In fact, at least one major Hollywood film was built around this problem. The Christian Slater film, PUMP UP THE VOLUME, was partly about teens rebelling against a school principal who was systematically weeding out "bad" students to increase her test score results.

What high-stakes testing means is that schools will automatically cultivate hostility to poor performing students and focus on making their schools as attractive to high-testing students-- a pretty perverse result of a school meant to help the students who really need help.

But like most "compassionate conservative" initiatives, it's a program that sounds good on the surface but really is an assault on those who it is supposedly there to help.

Posted by Nathan at July 31, 2003 07:44 AM