Education Problems and Solutions: Part 2

IV. High-Stakes Tests The term High-Stakes Tests (HST's) refers to standardized tests in that attempt to measure a child's strength in Math and English Language Arts, and are being increasingly tied to a child's advancement as well as teacher evaluations.

There is a profound dark side to these tests. They can affect job security for teachers, prevent children from advancing a grade, be subject to errors and glitches, take away class time spent on actual learning, and affect federal money given to states and school districts. Data has been gathered from years of research, proving a correlation between HST's and the increasing inability to provide a well-balanced education.

That article was from 2011, before Common Core had truly established itself in our education system. More than ever, teachers are being forced to "Teach to the Test" in order to ensure their own livelihoods. In 2014, opposition to CCSS began to spread rapidly after testing horror stories hit social media.

To hold back a third grader with an otherwise good academic record because of 1 point on a high-stakes test developed by a third party is a sign that humanity and reason are leaving the education process. But wait, there's more.

There are other horror stories worth mentioning that I have come across in my research this year. HST's have been deemed so important that the tests are literally following kids to the hospital--even to their death beds. Adding to the horror was the fact that the teacher, who took time to visit her dying student, was to be penalized if the test was not administered.

Teachers can be penalized if scores are not high enough, or not enough improvement shown. For example, New York bases 50% of teacher evaluations on HST's. The formula to assess improvement can be so flawed that a teacher who has high-scoring students in his class will have a worse evaluation for lack of improvement. By using flawed variables, students who score near perfect are literally expected to score beyond perfect to show marked improvement. On computers, test results can be erased due to glitches, causing headaches for everyone. One example occurred in Montana. I'm sure an isolated incident could be overlooked, but how about 36 incidents in over a dozen states in 2015? When billions of dollars of Federal grant money on the line, these High-Stakes Tests live up to that nickname. To receive the grants, 95% of students are required to participate in these HST's in most states. The many problems with HST's--stress, penalties, glitches, replacement for actual curriculum, and being a truly inaccurate way to assess a child's true intelligence--has fueled a nationwide "opt-out" movement by parents, students, and teachers.

New York is quite possibly the most stringent enforcer of CCSS in the country. However, the state produced some of the highest percentages of test refusals in the nation.

The entire 11th grade at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, WA opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment test. Parents are growing mistrustful of the education system in general, and an increasing number have chosen to homeschool their children. From 2003 to 2012, the percentage has risen from 2.2 to 3.4%. These figures are likely to increase now that Common Core and HST's have become fully implemented.

There is also concern over who has access to student data accumulated from these tests. That will be discussed in the upcoming section.

V. The Family and Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Here is the law, courtesy of the US Department of Education.

In 2008 and again in 2011, FERPA has been weakened to allow the private sector unprecedented access to education records and other private student data. In short, the definition of "school official" was drastically broadened to include terms like "contractors, consultants, volunteers, and other parties to whom an educational agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions it would otherwise use employees to perform." Because Google has an education app, it just so happens to fall into this extremely inclusive category. Furthermore, the key term "authorized representatives" have been modified so that so that now, it can be defined as any individual or entity that educational authorities select as an authorized representative.

The Department of Education responded with guidelines--which are nonbinding, meaning they are not new protective regulations--to protect sensitive student data from third parties. This amounts to nothing more than an "honor system" as opposed to ensuring student privacy. This concludes Part 2. Part 3 will focus on solutions. One of the main solutions is to restore trust in our teachers and let them teach.

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