The Nevada Proficiency Examination Program (NPEP) has become a ritual of classroom life in Las Vegas and Clark County – like similar standardized tests in other states in the United States. Across the country students are sweating over a new breed of “high stakes” tests.
Low scores can mean students won’t get promoted or graduate. In some states, school principals can be terminated if scores fail to improve; school districts can even face state takeovers. Many educators deplore the exams, but politicians and the public are cheering.
The tests are a key part of a nationwide reform effort to bring “standards” and “accountability” to public schools. President George W. Bush’s administration initiated the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program and now President Obama has introduced an expansion program called Race to the Top – implementing rigorous standards and high-quality assessments.
With education a key concern among voters, you can expect high-stakes exams to multiply in the second decade of the new century.
1. What are the advantages and disadvantages to this kind of testing? As a class create a list of the pros and cons regarding standardized testing for students, teachers, school districts, and education in general.
2. Then, look in your daily newspaper (online or print) and other media sources for information about the effects of these exams on your community, region, and state. Where do Nevada students rank by comparison to students in other states? Why do you think Nevada holds that ranking? Do the politicians in Nevada, Clark County, and Las Vegas support standardized testing for accountability?
3. Interview your parents and grandparents or older relatives and friends to find out how schools have changed since their time. Create a list of questions you want answered about education in the past. Include how teaching methods have changed, how schools and teachers have changed, what kinds of learning resources were in schools, and what types of services were available to students.
4. Now consider the future. Conduct interviews with teachers and administrators to find out how they think schools may change in the future. Do some research! Look for information in your newspaper, in contemporary magazines, and on the Internet about the future of education in our country. When finished with interviews and research, create a series of pictures or essays that best portray what schools and education may be like 25 years from now. Is there anything about schools and schooling that you think will not change?
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See also CJ Hatcher’s National Lesson Plans column!