To the Editor:
Two thoughts come mind after reading “State Tests Not All OK Under Law” (April 2, 2008), which reports on states’ progress in establishing testing systems compliant with the federal No Child Left Behind Act:
First, with so much national focus on standardized tests, why haven’t I heard much conversation about the use of incentives before test administration? Many years ago, when I administered tests, there was standardization of the testing environment as well as of the administration procedure. Offering prior-known rewards was discouraged, as was giving any praise during testing. How standardized is the testing environment these days when schools respond to the inane pressure to produce favorable statistics by offering prizes, sometimes as large as cars, to top scorers? What about the district that offers nothing?
What makes this straying from a standardized-testing environment acceptable now? Have times changed, or was I exposed to improper practice, or does the need to produce the best results allow for varied testing situations?
Second, while I am aware that the No Child Left Behind law’s focus is getting low-performing students to proficiency (or, some might say, mediocrity), and while I would be happy to see that happen, I am concerned that this draws attention away from the fact that our public schools also serve students who are already proficient and can score as such easily, before the school year begins. Which states go beyond that level of mediocrity of tracking to proficiency and show equal concern for high performers, or for all students generally, regardless of where their degree of proficiency lies? Isn’t this an odd question to have to ask when talking about a law called No Child Left Behind?
Should the legislation’s authors desire a more accurate title, they are free to contact me for suggestions.
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as Rewards and Mediocrity: State-Testing Questions