I've always hated standardized educational testing ever since I was in the 4th grade when I attended Herkomer Platz Kinderschule in Munich, Germany. (My father, John Cramer was on sabbatical and was doing research at Garching.) At the end of the school year we all took a series of tests. They didn't matter for me because I was going back to the US, but for all the rest of the children, the tests determined whether they were going to the Hauptschule, the Realschule, or the Gymnasium. Only the kids chosen to go to the Gymnasium were expected to go to college. As a 10-year-old I thought it was stupid and unfair that my peers were taking tests that would eliminate to possibility of a university education for two-thirds of them. I still think it was stupid.
My later experiences with standardized testing did nothing to change my mind. For the most part, I've always been a good test-taker, but this did not reduce my disdain for them and my upset at what they did to the educational environment. Thus, I was deeply suspicious of the emphasis on standardized testing in Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative: school would teach to the test and otherwise distort the ciriculum to optimize their pupil's scores.
I think a lot of the recent emphasis on "Kindergarten readiness" originates in the pressures on schools to make sure their pupil's test scores are up from the beginning; and following from that, the fashion for holding kids back a year, rather than letting them enter Kindergarten and First Grade on schedule. The pressure to perform is passed increasingly downward in age-groups. This is very bad for the kids and brings pressure to the early elementary grades that my generation didn't see until Junior High.
But I've just found out about a new way in which this testing pressure damages eduction:
Educators nationwide are waking up to the problem of pushouts. With the advent of high-stakes testing in dozens of states, and the fact that under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools with low graduation rates risk being deemed failing schools, schools are facing real temptations to make their results look good by getting rid of low performers.
Just this month, Miami school officials began investigating a principal who apparently tried to weed out low-performing students to bolster the school's test scores. And the Houston schools are mired in controversy after a state audit found that at some schools, more than half those discharged should have been classified as dropouts.
In New York, Mr. Klein said, the pushout problem was one he inherited, and became aware of only late last year. Since then, he said, he has been investigating the issue, and making plans for a new accountability system that will, among other things, keep better track of what happens to students who leave the system.
Mr. Klein said he was not aware that the discharge issue had been brought to the department's notice in prior years.
But two years ago, just before he left his post as chief of assessment and accountability, Robert Tobias recommended an audit after noticing a "heavy use of the discharge codes" under which students are no longer accounted for in a school's graduation rate.
The discharge codes can be misused, he said, by classifying students who drop out of the system as having left the city. "It would be possible to inflate graduation rates and reduce your dropout rate," said Mr. Tobias, who is now an education professor at New York University.