The desire of employers to reduce the curriculum down to basic skills with more focus on the so-called “3 Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic has been aided by the new emphasis on preparing for tests in core subjects. A major consequence of high-stakes testing is that activities that offer no competitive advantage with other schools have been dropped, this includes subjects that are not included in academic league tables. Casualties include health education, environmental education, social sciences (history and geography), civics, art, music, creative writing, drama and physical education.
The Center on Education Policy found in its survey of the impact of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that 71 percent of school districts reduced the time spent on at least one other subject so as to spend more time on preparing children for maths and reading tests.
When student performance in national standardised tests for science showed declining performance in 2006 it was attributed by some teachers to the declining class time spent on science in schools focussing on annual reading and maths test required by the NCLB legislation. Science classes had been cancelled in some cases or otherwise reduced, according to Dept of Education statistics.
An American Federation of Teachers survey found that 87 percent of members claimed that important subjects and activities were being forced out of the school curriculum. “Elementary teachers report that they devote more than a month to test preparation for the English Language Arts exam by eliminating all subjects other than language arts.” In many states poorly performing students are being required to do double the normal number of classes in English and mathematics so as to improve their performance on the tests. They are therefore forced to drop electives such as art, music, social studies and languages and therefore “are being deprived of a well-rounded education and the opportunity to explore new subjects”.
In Ontario, elementary school teachers have called for a two year moratorium on standardised testing, which occurs in grades 3 and 6. They argue that teachers spend so much time teaching to the literacy and numeracy tests that other subjects are neglected including science, history and social studies.
In England and Wales the introduction of a national subject-centred curriculum, with a core that is subject to testing, has meant that students are much less likely to get the “benefit of a rich, well-designed and broad curriculum”. Boyle and Bragg have shown that between 1997 and 2004 more class time has been spent on English, Maths and information technology and less on all other subjects including science, history, geography, art, music and physical education. Other educational elements such as social sciences, humanities, foreign languages, or the arts are considered “needlessly inefficient and expensive”. The National Strategies for Literacy and Numeracy are supposed to take up at least half the lesson time in primary schools.
A recent survey of teachers in England found that almost 90 percent of them wanted more freedom to tailor the school curriculum to student needs. For example, they cannot adapt it to suit a more ethnically diverse group of students. They argue that the national curriculum does not engage the interest of children. Teachers believe that if they were able to focus on teaching skills using knowledge that was of interest to the students they would be much more motivated to learn.
Similarly, in other parts of Europe, children up to the age of 14 “will experience a common and narrowly-defined core” curriculum focused on basic skills including reading, writing and mathematics.
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