Chicago Schools Need More Investments, Not More Standardized Tests

April 20, 2004

The following article is excerpted from a newsletter produced by Chicago teachers.

As Spring comes, Chicago teachers and students are once again wrapped up in standardized tests.

In fact, the growing emphasis on high-stakes testing distorts the curriculum throughout the year. Principals reward and punish teachers based on their students' test scores, forcing teachers to "teach to the test" and restrict the curriculum. Students, who for a variety of reasons, simply do not perform well on such tests find themselves more and more under the gun.

In Chicago, and across the country, high-stakes, standardized tests are being used more and more as a means to punish students, cut funding for schools, and cover over the government's failure to invest the funds needed to guarantee the education of our children.

In Chicago, standardized tests play an important role in the rating system used by the Board of Education. Schools in which students do not perform well on the tests can be placed on probation, taken over directly by the Board (and its teachers dismissed) or even closed altogether.

The "No Child Left Behind" Act, passed in 2001 by Congress and the Bush administration, makes federal funding of public schools dependent on students' scores on yearly standardized tests.

All students in grades 3-8 must take annual tests in reading and math and all students in grades 10-12 must be tested at least once. Mandatory testing in science will begin in 2007.

These tests are used to measure whether schools are making "adequate yearly progress" towards a standard of 100% "proficiency" by the year

2014.

School which receive Title I funding (federal monies earmarked for high poverty areas) and which fail to make "adequate yearly progress" for two consecutive years will face an escalating menu of penalties, including loss of Title I funds, firing of staff, take over by the state, possible privatization, etc.

All across the country, educators, state and local governments agree that year-by-year more schools will be labeled as failing. For example, last year, 365 Chicago schools, enrolling 285,000 students, failed. A recent survey by Education Week indicates that as many as 75% of all public schools will eventually fail to meet the requirements of the NCLB and be subject to sanctions.

While the politicians advertise standardized testing as a way to "improve performance," the reality is that the law only gives the government an excuse to slash funding and push for privatization of the schools.

It is obvious to anyone that test results -- at best -- only reflect the educational inputs received by students in the first place. Thus mandating standardized tests without improving inputs -- lowering class sizes, modernizing schools and curriculum, hiring more teachers and staff, etc. -- will not "improve performance." If current test results show that students are lagging behind, this only indicts the government for failing to properly invest in the public schools. Improving results must begin with increasing investments.

The National Council of State Legislatures estimates that an additional $35 billion/year is needed for schools to meet the goals of the NCLB Act. The National Educational Association (NEA) and many other associations of educators have condemned the NCLB Act has a "unfunded federal mandate" and the NEA is suing the government to demand the necessary funding. This year, thousands of Chicago students were entitled to tutoring under the provisions of the NCLB Act but the Board failed to provide it.

In fact, high-stakes, standardized testing only diverts needed time and resources away from education into test-taking and record-keeping.

In sum, the politicians are using high-stakes standardized testing as a way to cover over their own crimes. Students and the public school system itself are blamed for "lack of improvement" while the government's own refusal to properly fund the schools is ignored.

The public school system is one of the great achievements of our country and rather than finding ways to condemn the schools and tear them down, the government must make more investments in public education in order to improve our schools.