Editorial: Reprioritize schools, Standardization stinks

FitTheMold In a case that started in 2011, 11 former employees from the Atlanta public schools have been found guilty of racketeering in a case that started out as a cheating scandal in which 35 people were originally indicted.

According to reports, the incident involved various employees changing answers and cheating on standardized tests.

Although the actions taken by all those involved in the scandal were wrong, there is much to be said about what might have motivated the district to resort to such extreme measures.

Typically, standardized tests are put in place in order to “set the bar” for education. In other words, these tests are supposed to measure how well a school is doing in teaching its students core subjects relative to their grade level.

Although this might sound good on paper, standardized tests such as these are known to put extreme pressure on educators. To put it in perspective, those who work within a school district are expected to make a collaborative effort to ensure that hundreds of children pass their exams in a way that puts a concrete “score” on their understanding of rudimentary concepts every year.

Yes, perhaps the whole point of going to school is to ensure that children obtain an education that will enable them to apply their understanding in the real world; however, this idealistic dream takes a questionable turn when there is money involved.

In a trickle-down effect, the whole affair starts at a federal level. Initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, both of which were started to ensure that children receive an adequate education within the American school system, put a price tag on learning. With programs like these, states as a whole are given federal funds based on how well their collective districts do on standardized tests.

From this money given to the state, districts are allocated funds based on how well their kids do on tests. With the money in hand, the districts then get to decide how to divide it among schools, and often this decision gets tied to testing performance.

All this money exchange and distribution is perhaps the greatest cause for the breakdown of the logic behind standardized testing. In addition, it creates rifts between all levels of education — the federal, state, district and school.

While some argue that the money merely serves as an incentive to get schools to keep their scores up, it is actually counterintuitive. By reserving funds for schools with scores that meet state requirements, schools that might have soley had an educational issue now have a monetary one as well. This lack in funds will be felt by the school administration, teachers and students who will all have think of ways to make up for the scores or else risk another year of budget cuts, which could be detrimental to more than one area of the school.

Furthermore, the kind of pressure that these kinds of cuts pose distract from classroom learning as more time will be dedicated to passing the test, rather than building on fundamental knowledge within each grade level. A tradition of barely getting by should never be the objective of education but sadly has become all too common among various schools across the nation who have faced a similar ordeal.

Although there have been rumors of an “opt-out” option for the state of Texas, a look at a 2014 document by the Texas Association of School Boards on the matter specifically outlines that choosing not to take the test is not a right, and failure to take certain standardized tests could be taken into consideration in a student’s grade promotion and graduation.

What those involved in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal was wrong. However, the extreme actions taken by these employees serve to point out a breakdown in one segment of America’s educational system — where kids become numbers, teachers are judged by scores, and districts are constantly competing in order to ensure that they can operate another day.

Standardized tests can marginalize the value of learning and turn schools into little more than mini-businesses whose objectives are to generate funds. This is why we should reconsider the way our nation prioritizes standardized testing.