The idea of making students repeat a year when they get poor test results, or making them do extra classes outside of school time is largely based on the idea that such punishment will provide an incentive for students to work hard. Yet, as Brent Staples notes in a New York Times editorial, “the notion that young children fail academically because they are lazy passed out of fashion with platform shoes” and what actually happens is “that children held back in early grades do worse academically – and are more likely to drop out – than children with similar test scores who get extra help” after going into the next grade.
Moreover standardised tests are designed so that a significant proportion of the children will fail. In the US those who compile standardised tests for schools have found that students tend to get better scores each year – as teachers and students become accustomed to the tests – so that the tests have to be recalibrated every seven years to ensure that an average student will score around fifty percent. Not only does this ensure that there are no apparent increases in student scores over a number of years but it ensures that no matter how good the schools are, a certain number of students will fail.
High-stakes testing causes higher rates of suspensions, exclusions, and drop-outs in the US. This is partly because schools are making children repeat grades to ensure the school’s test scores improve in important state tests. Studies show that grades one to three are getting larger whilst the fourth grade, when the state test that ranks schools is taken, is much smaller. Also, the number of students in ninth grade in 2000 was 13 percent larger than the number of students in the eighth grade the year before, indicating that the extra students had been held back from grade ten, another important test year.
Texas, cited as the model for the NCLB Act because of its ability to boost test scores, did so by removing poorly performing students from doing the tests through retention in lower grades. Records were manipulated to hide the high number of dropouts.
In New York and Chicago school drop out figures also seem to have been manipulated. In New York the Times reported that the number of students pushed out of school to make the schools performance look better is increasing with students pushed out at ever younger ages. Recent figures for New York public schools show that not only are suspensions increasing but that students with disabilities are four times more likely to be suspended than other students.
The steadily closing achievement gap between black and white children that had been occurring since the second world war was reversed during the 1990s as a consequence of the school funding cuts and ‘reforms’ that have occurred since the 1980s. Not only are fewer black students graduating but “the enrollment of minority students at a number of our most prestigious public universities has dropped alarmingly”.
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