Pa. schools need creativity and funding, not testing
Originally published in The Tartan on 01.28.2008. Visit www.thetartan.org.
Written with input from the editorial board of The Tartan.
On Thursday, Jan. 12, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education approved a plan requiring all high school students to pass a series of course-specific tests in English, math, science, and social studies in order to graduate. This plan is rooted heavily in the theories of standards-based education reform, a key part of the infamous No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA).

Following the chance, students would have multiple opportunities to pass the tests, and those who have difficulty passing the tests would qualify for extra tutoring — yet, no one in the state seems to know where the funding for that extra tutoring would come from. Many schools can't muster up the money for standard tutoring, let alone additional tutoring specific to these tests. There is already an ongoing funding problem in Pennsylvania in which low-income schools can't afford to adequately teach students, and therefore receive less funding. As it is, public schools in the state are $4.3 billion short of the money needed to ensure a quality education.

A common argument against NCLBA is applicable here, too. In preparation for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, many schools set aside hours — some even set aside entire school days — teaching students how to take the tests. Akin to the tutoring example, time and money are being taken away from the basics of a good schooling. Not only does this hurt kids who achieve beyond the level of the tests, it also hurts kids who can't even get tutoring for their normal school work.

Currently, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education requires all students to complete a graduation project in order to get a diploma. Students choose their own projects, which require some element of service. This is a requirement that makes sense: The project doesn't have to cost any money, it doesn't take any time out of the schooling process, and it allows kids to focus on something they enjoy. While standardized tests work to bring everyone to an average, for better or for worse, the graduation project has the potential to allow students to cultivate their interests and talents, explore their passions, and discover that there can be something more to schooling than square roots and predicate nominatives.

A little bit of creativity can go a long way in improving education, but in the end, it all seems to point to one thing: What schools really need is more funding, not more tests.
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