Education Letter to the Editor

High Schools’ Redesign: More Tests and Tracking?

February 01, 2005 2 min read

To the Editor:

Beware of politicians promoting more testing and tracking of students. In his Jan. 12, 2005, speech on high school education, President Bush said: “Testing is important. Testing will allow teachers to improve their classes. Testing will enable schools to track” (“Bush Promotes Plan for High School Tests,” Jan. 19, 2005).

The National Governors Association supports a bipartisan initiative called “Redesigning the American High School.” In an Education Week Commentary, Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia wrote that it “will make the entire high school experience more rigorous and relevant to college and the workforce” (“Demanding More of Our High Schools,” Nov. 17, 2004). He described Virginia’s “three-pronged approach to high school reform,” which designates students’ destiny at age 15: going on to college, going straight into the workforce, or at risk of not graduating. Is this the tracking President Bush supports?

America’s public schools historically encouraged all children to reach their greatest potential. The thrust of the No Child Left Behind Act is helping students on a “regular” track achieve a basic level of competency. That would be wonderful if federal funding were sufficient, local taxpayers were not stressed, and schools were not forced to sacrifice our special students—those who struggle and those who excel. University research reveals truths about testing and tracking.

A Johns Hopkins University study labels 2,000 high schools nationwide as potential “dropout factories.” Struggling students may be held back a full grade level, and thus out of testing pools, by schools pressured to boost test scores. Such students often give up and drop out.

“A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students,” a study from the University of Iowa sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, shows that advanced-level coursework is being sacrificed as test-prep demands rise and school resources fall. Bright students who go unchallenged are tuning out, thus impeding their own potential achievement.

Only one of my three college-educated children knew what she wanted to be by age 20. Yet the proposed “redesign” requires students to make the crucial choice between college and workforce tracks at age 15. How will that decision be made?

Research from Harvard University’s Ronald Ferguson is relevant. His focus is the achievement gap between black and white students from similar middle-class families. He found student achievement is shaped by cultural factors, such as peer-group priorities and parental involvement in schooling. As Mr. Ferguson told Time magazine in November, black parents “should become more proactive and vigilant.”

Children without savvy parental advocates are at risk from the “redesign” of high schools. Proactive and vigilant parents will not allow the doors of opportunity to be closed to their progeny. Imagine the children left behind by this “redesign.”

Betty Raskoff Kazmin

Retired Los Angeles Teacher

Willard, Ohio

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A version of this article appeared in the February 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as High Schools’ Redesign: More Tests and Tracking?