No Child Left Behind is Teaching Students How to Cheat on Mastery Tests – A Lesson Well Learned

Although I usually write about news that has to do with new books or reading, this will be somewhat of a digression to education due to the recent state of affairs in Connecticut. This news was disturbing enough that allowances had to be made.

For the past several years, teachers in Connecticut, have been spending large amounts of time preparing their students on how to take the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CAT) for younger students and the Connecticut Academic Performance Tests (CAPT) for older students. (This is no different than teachers across the country who are doing the same.) With everything else they have to squeeze into a day, they have to stop teaching actual subject matter and start teaching how to take tests. As a result, their students spend valuable time learning how to take tests, such as multiple choice. This way they are better prepared for the CMT and CAPTs when administered.

Teachers have no choice in this matter. They know that students’ performance on these tests, and therefore their performance on teaching these tests, is a very high priority in the state. Why? The “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) Act. In Connecticut, in order to meet the performance standards required under the federal NCLB Act of 2001, schools have to meet “adequate yearly progress” (AYP). This is based on, no surprise, how the students do on the CAT and CAPT tests. If the school does not pass, then it is labeled as “in need of improvement.” Regardless of what the financial ramifications are to this designation, no school wants to report to its constituency that it is “in need of improvement.”

Given the tremendous disparity between the quality of education in this country, and the unfortunate situation in many schools across the nation, changes do need to be made. However, NCLB is doing more harm than good. First, as noted above, the trend is now teaching to test. The public pressure on students, teachers, principals, and school superintendents to higher scores on tests is enormous, and the tendency to restrict instruction to only that which will be tested is almost irresistible.

If this is not bad enough, there were a couple of additional items of interest in Connecticut recently that add to the negative results. First, students are being made to think that they are more than accountable for their results on the test. Parents talk about elementary school children who are physically ill because they are so worried about these tests-if they do poorly, what will their teacher or parents think? Teachers are afraid for their jobs. Just this week, and this is what finally led to this article, two students actually cheated on their CAPT, because their high school now stipulates if a student does not pass the CAPT, he/she will not graduate. What kind of lessons are students learning?

A couple of weeks before the CAPTs were held in this high school, all parents and students received a letter regarding the importance of testing, the daily testing schedule and the need to eat well and get plenty of rest before the testing days. It appears that no one cares about how well the students eat and sleep the other hundreds of days in the school year. Just make sure these students are fed well and put to sleep early on the day before the tests. That’s the way to go by the book, these days.