Scores on school assessments are no longer going upward in Kansas (Sept. 19 Eagle). This may be the only good news in education for the past decade.
Why celebrate the leveling off of student achievement scores? Simple: It finally brings some common sense to the insane idea that 100 percent of students can be proficient at grade level.
That scores gradually increased over the past decade attests to the ability of Kansas teachers to drop everything else of value and teach to the tests. But that effort has reached its limits.
The curriculum narrowed as schools reduced or eliminated time for anything that was not tested. Students who were not making progress were double-scheduled into more math and English. Students above grade level were often left behind.
The whole climate of Kansas classrooms changed. Administrators became foremen, and teachers became assembly-line workers in test-prep factories. Many teachers no longer enjoy teaching and many students no longer find learning exciting, because lessons have been reduced to drill work for the tests.
Some Kansas educational organizations proudly pointed to rising scores as proof of better learning outcomes. But these rising scores were merely an artifact of teaching to a narrow test.
Kansas student scores on national tests never went up. Nor did most university professors see any corresponding increase in language and math abilities. Schools just taught more students to take the tests better, and lost the soul of teacher professionalism and the excitement of genuine learning in the process.
Why can’t we close the gap and move 100 percent of students to proficiency level?
The best doctors lose patients, and the best teachers lose students. And for much the same reasons.
Some patients come to a doctor already terminally ill. And some children enter school after living in a home where parents were cooking meth. Some teenagers fry their brains on drugs.
Less dramatic but no less debilitating are the cases of children who have never had a book read to them before they entered school. Others may be quite capable, but not in English – and communication is the skill central to teaching and learning.
Half of Americans get divorced, and single parents who have to work may not be at home for their child after school. Teachers cannot undo all the damage that poverty causes.
These are not excuses but descriptions of the realities that teachers face and politicians ignore.
Single high-stakes tests based on everyone reaching a standard level are not what American education has been about, and the damage they have done trying to reach that goal can be undone if we realize that examinations are not the full measure of an education.