Letter to the Editor on Standardized Testing I’m writing in response to Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled feature of the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s guest blog titled, “Moving Beyond APS Scandal to Transform Education in the City” by school board member Courtney D. English. It is an insightful and optimistic response to the public education scandal that has rocked the city. From my perspective as a teacher, I feel I can put the scandal into a larger context. The Atlanta cheating scandal should be a wake-up call for all stakeholders in education; this cheating scandal is a symptom of a larger problem, one that indicates that standardized tests are not the solution. First, this cheating scandal is a symptom of a larger problem in education and society. This is not to condone the actions of the superintendent and teachers who falsified or changed answers on tests so that students appeared to be improving, and so they could reap the rewards and funding that follow stellar results. Educators are under enormous pressure, not just from their superiors, but from employers who demand top-notch skills, politicians who lament the deteriorating scores compared to other nations, and the government that must help those who can’t find employment due in part to their lack of employable skills. English (2013) suggested solutions such as dual-enrollment programs and internship opportunities with local businesses as stronger solutions for the education of students in Atlanta, though his suggestions would offer benefits in other cities as well. Schools have become the scapegoat for the problem of under-prepared students, but facing the pressure of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, narrowed by the dictates of standardized tests, is a poor match for the needs of 21st-century thinkers and workers in a global workplace.
As a former high school teacher, I can attest firsthand to the stress this testing placed on schools and students who were ill-equipped to perform at their best, and not just in inner-city schools. Who can concentrate on finding the main idea when they are being bullied, pregnant, suicidal, tired due to working all week, or on drugs? And let’s not forget the teachers: I once was asked to reconsider giving Ds to students who did minimal work, as low grades provide a disincentive to improve, but was suddenly teacher-of-the-year material when all my students, including limited-English and learning-disabled, earned passing scores on the state writing test. If all I focused on the entire year was one skill, why wouldn’t they succeed in that one skill on that one day? Secondly, educational researchers have asserted that standardized tests are negatively impacting…