Lisa Eggert Litvin, parent leader in Westchester County, remembers a childood in which testing was present, but far from dominant. There was time for play and hanging out with friends.

Today, however, standardized testing has become the measure of students, teachers, and schools. 

She writes:

“When I attended public school in the 1970s, we didn’t have the high-stakes tests in math and English Language Arts that elementary and middle schools now give every year. We studied math and English, of course, but we had time to dig into other disciplines. We didn’t have much homework, so that after school, we could play with friends and be with our families. Not every day was amazing by any means, but we had room to explore, have fun, make mistakes, and just be kids.

“We didn’t take many standardized tests. In fact, I remember taking a standardized test only two or three times over those years. There was no test prep, except for the reminder to bring a #2 pencil to school.

“Fast forward to 2001, with the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The law was well-intended, hoping to ensure that all children were accounted for. It required that schools test every year in grades 3-8, and report the results, including for traditionally underserved groups. The thought was that low scores couldn’t be hidden, students’ needs would be addressed, and every child would eventually show proficiency. The tests would provide accountability.

“But NCLB went astray: it limited its focus to annual tests in math and ELA, and imposed harsh repercussions on schools for low scores (hence the term “high-stakes testing”). At the time, the nation’s top adolescent psychiatrists warned Congress not to increase testing, especially with draconian stakes, explaining that “test-stress is literally making children sick” and that “the health effects of such policies” must be studied. But the law and its testing mandates passed anyway.

“Now, nearly two decades later, such testing-centric public education means that my childhood, with its range of studies and exploration and free time, is endangered. Playtime, recess, and the arts are considered throwaways as schools double-down on ELA and math. As early as 2005, a survey by the Center on Education Policy found that 71 percent of school districts cut back on subjects like history and music so they could spend more time on the tested subjects.

“In addition, the pressure for high achievement in the tested subjects has intensified tremendously. Teaching has become more about preparing children for the tests, and tested subjects are being taught earlier than ever. Kindergarten is the new first grade, with emphasis on reading and math over unstructured free play time — even though experts have warned of the grave consequences that this will cause.”

In theory, NCLB was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (which is just another way to say “No Child Left Behind”, but the reality is that standardized tests continue to dominate the lives of students and teachers.

Can anyone say that no child was left behind as a result of the imposition of annual testing? With enough test prep, scores may go up, but they don’t translate into success after school. Does anyone sentient person believe that “every student” will succeed because of annual testing?

No other nation imposes annual tests on children from grades 3-8. Why do we? It is a massive waste of time, purpose, and money. The biggest beneficiaries are not the students but the testing companies.

The emperor has no clothes yet has paraded around stark naked  since January 8, 2002, the day NCLB was signed.