It started several years ago: I gave writing assignments in my microbiology course that required research and critical thinking, and students universally bombed them. Some had a hard time putting together a cogent sentence or paragraph. None of them knew how to do research, and in several cases, “www.google.com” was used as a citation. APA style? I was lucky to get a list of websites that weren’t Google. I take that back. I was lucky to get a paper that wasn’t entirely plagiarized from a website.
What the heck was up with these students? I blamed the high school teachers who had sent me such unprepared students. I was wrong. The culprit? According to some, it is No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Kenneth Bernstein recently published an article in Academe, the Journal of the American Association of University Professors that was re-published in the Washington Post titled, “A Warning to College Profs from a High School Teacher.” In the article, he outlines the impact of the past decade of the NCLB legislation. Here are some disturbing results of legislation in which standardized testing is king:
- No meaningful social studies education in elementary and middle school, and a lack of art, music, or other “non-tested” subjects.
- Standardized testing that consists only of multiple-choice questions because they are cheaper to develop, administer, and score. Few of the assessments required by NCLB require any form of writing. When writing is included, grammar, syntax, and structure are not graded.
- An intense focus on preparation for these standardized tests in math and English severely narrows what can be taught in High School courses.
- AP courses, once considered college prep courses, also are given the intense focus on preparation for the test, without any emphasis on writing. According to Bernstein, if a student hits the points of the rubric for the “free response questions” on the AP exam, they are given credit, regardless of the quality of the writing.
- Teachers are not evaluated on their skills, rather on the success of their students on standardized testing. Often their salaries are based on the success of their students on these tests.
[Image courtesy http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/no-child-left-behind-testing/]
The bottom line: Legislators and other non-educators are making decisions about curriculum and student outcomes, to the detriment of the students and teachers alike. My own Lovely Assistant has been fighting an uphill battle trying to get an exemption for her disabled, medically fragile, and developmentally delayed son from standardized testing. Her battle is documented here, here, and here. Educators are not pulling the strings here – legislators are. Here’s a quote from Kenneth Bernstein:
“Ultimately, it was to little avail, because the drivers of the policies that are changing our schools—and thus increasingly presenting you with students ever less prepared for postsecondary academic work—are the wealthy corporations that profit from the policies they help define and the think tanks and activist organizations that have learned how to manipulate the levers of power, often to their own financial or ideological advantage.”
Mavenites, this impacts us all, regardless of the arena in which we teach. The lack of preparedness we see in college students isn’t the fault of shoddy teaching in elementary, middle, and high school; it’s the fault of policymakers who are myopic and tone-deaf when it comes to educating our young people and who have little to no understanding of the educational process.
Many of the students themselves were aware of this deficit. It was the Maven's own son who pointed out a few years ago, when he was trying to make the case to go to Europe for a study abroad experience, "Why Mom, I need to remediate the effects of my No Child Left Behind education," he intoned at the ripe old age of 19. (He was always a bit of a smart aleck).
It’s time to stand in solidarity with our colleagues in elementary, middle, and high schools and speak out against the policies that put a premium on test scores over writing, critical thinking, analysis, and even such necessities as music, art, and physical education. We’ve been warned.
No Child Left Behind, science curriculum, science teaching, students, teaching