The students and the educational system Left Behind

28 Feb

When I first imagined a Masters in International Education I thought I was going to compare and analyze different educational systems across the world. I had it all planned out in my mind, I wanted to write my thesis about how U.S. educational system is designed to fail its students through their absurd obsession with standardized testing. Nothing happened like expected and there was no thesis to be written.

A couple of weeks ago two friends brought to my attention two similar articles about the realities and consequences of standardize testing – the unpreparedness of students going to College and how standardize testing hurts children with disabilities. I strongly recommend you to read them.

As a former special education teacher I can confidently say that I was one of those teachers getting low evaluations because my students wouldn’t show a “significant” progress. A certain percent of the entire school special education population had to get above certain score in order for the school- and for us the teachers- to make it to safe heavens. My students were often treated more like numbers and labels rather than capable students. Every progress (personal or academic) they made was often diminished by those absurd standards set up by standardize testing. Subsequently, most of my students, just like the girl from the article, felt incompetent and stupid when taking such tests. Those two weeks of testing were the worst two weeks of the year for them. Their self-confidence was at its lowest and this kind of testing was a perfect trigger for anxiety and panic attacks.

I knew my students well, I knew what they learned and what not, the way they learned better and I know that the ways in which they grew personally and academically could not be measured by a standardized test. Parents, general ed teachers, and students themselves knew and noticed such progress, but the pressure is such that before their eyes the “real deal” was their standardized test score. It was very painful and heartbreaking to see my students go through the entire process. I ended up spending my time teaching to the test (not by choice…) – a set of “skills” that students will actually never use in real life. After teaching for only two years I became bitter and helpless and I left the system disappointed.

I honestly believe that the inclusive education model (and perhaps the entire system) needs to be revised and reformed to better and truly serve our kids. The day our education system stops being so politicized MAYBE that will be the day when we will stop failing our students with disabilities and we might then treat them more as capable human beings rather than just as a label with a price tag. And that absurd obsession with foolish standardize testing and their guidelines and modified tests for kids with disabilities means nothing to them or to their families. It’s a mere bureaucracy and a misuse of time.

I have very strong feelings against standardized testing in general, but when it comes to students with disabilities, I think it’s the most absurd thing!! It’s just a political thing and a huge waste of students’ and teachers’ time. If we look into it, I am pretty sure we can find other ways to measure and assess student achievement and teacher accountability. But then again I guess standardized testing is a multi-million industry…


4 Responses to “The students and the educational system Left Behind”

  1. Evan George March 3, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    In my period of “transition” I have been doing a lot of reading on inequalities and racial segregation in America’s public education system. I am not speaking about former inequalities or past racial segregation, I am talking about what is happening today. The problems in our public education system mostly (almost 100%) comes from inequality of services between rich and poor students, and this of course is compounded for a student who happens to be born with both a disability and to poor parents. But don’t worry I’m on the case. Read anything by Jonathan Kozol if you want more information on America’s system.

  2. Devin March 6, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    I think it’s appalling that the system exists the way it does with absolutely no push for concerted reform (aside from Obama’s current push for pre-school education, which still fails to address the biggest problems our system faces). Education is an issue that gets mentioned briefly in debates in a laundry list of other domestic issues, but the leaders of this country have yet to see that it is a broken system. This goes back to the founding principles of this country and the central tenant of the American Dream – the cult of the individual. The idea of making a name for yourself in this country is inherently tied to being able to provide your children with a quality education. While this is generally considered a conservative debate, it is an issue that liberals have done little to mitigate. Evan is completely right about the vast inequality of service provision in this country, and yes, those with learning disabilities get the shortest end of the stick.

    Not only are we continuing to leave our own children behind, we (the US) continue to set a poor example for the developing world attempting to reform, improve or even create an education system from the ground up. The monitoring and evaluation of educational programming that donors require needs to be based on a quantifiable framework that can be easily reported and measured. The default tends to be on this broken system of standardized testing. It seems the motto of the US isn’t “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but rather “If it’s broke, pretend it ain’t and spread it all over the world so it becomes the norm and no one will notice how broke it is.”

    Not quite as catchy.

    • Jacqueline January 5, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

      Hi Devin. Have been reading through this blog to kind of get to know the type of students who go to NYU’s International Ed program (have been admitted to Spring 2014)…very interesting so far, judging by your league of “do-gooders.” Wasn’t planning on leaving any replies but what you said in your last paragraph above is of particular interest as I am from the Philippines – a former US colony (not by design) – and until now we are still largely influenced by the US educational system and practices, especially since we also receive a lot of aid in the form of educational reform/intervention. But while we also invariably adopt the “broken” parts of the US system, there are parts of the interventions that have actually been very helpful to the development of our educational framework (i.e., learner-centered teaching and planning, teacher preparation and development, etc.). We just have to be vigilant in keeping what works, and tossing out the parts that bring more harm than good. We too have many, many horror stories WRT standardized testing!

      • Devin January 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

        Thanks for your comment Jacqueline! I completely agree that many countries (I would say most) are doing an excellent job – utilizing partnerships between local actors, governments, and civil society – to contextualize and adapt education systems to suit their own needs. In fact, many of the success stories I have heard in my studies, particularly with regards to disaster risk reduction (DRR) education, have come out of your home country. It is stories like these that keep us educators going!

        Like Georgina mentions in her post, standardized testing is a lucrative industry and here in the US, we just can’t seem to find a system that better analyzes the value-added of educational inputs. It’s unfortunate, and this system is diffused throughout the world and I have certainly seen it serve as the downfall of many capable students I have worked with. The trick, as you highlight, is to scrap the parts of this system that do not work and contextualize those that do in order to ensure quality learning, local ownership and sustainability. It is a global effort, and we are all making strides. Despite my pessimistic tone, I certainly have hope for the future!

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