Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Testing's Impact on Non-Tested Subjects

Scott Shuler, the outgoing president of the National Association for Music Education, wrote an outstanding column for the June 2012 edition of the Music Educators Journal discussing the negative impact the testing culture has had on music education. He discusses the importance of a well-rounded education, shows how several educational policy documents (including No Child Left Behind) identify the arts as a core subject, and how music educators and supporters in general should go about advocating for increased access to arts education. 

It is a fact that the quality or availability of non-tested subjects has declined since 2001, especially in low-income schools as they hire additional staff, adopt expensive intervention programs, and offer more remedial courses to improve test scores. Brad Rogers talks about this in a recent column in regard to the impact of Florida's FCAT exams on the availability of elective courses: 

What [reformers] fail to acknowledge, though, is what has been sacrificed in the name of FCAT success. Huge numbers of children have been denied electives so they can be warehoused in remediation classes, decimating bands, athletic teams, and what’s left of our music and art programs.

Under Florida's A+ plan, middle and high school students who fail the reading and/or math portion of the FCAT must enroll in a remedial course during the next school year. This does not replace the grade-level reading or math course. The remedial course is an additional period of study, which takes the place of an elective class. The schools that still operate on a six-period day end up with many students who are not able to take an elective due to their test scores. When a student expresses interest in taking a performing arts class or another elective, the teacher pretty much has to respond to that interest with this question: "How did you do on the FCAT?" The answer to that question will determine if the student will actually be able to join the elective class. 

How can educators do a better job of elevating the study of non-tested subjects such as music, art, social studies, physical education, etc. in this era of stressing STEM courses? Is it necessary to advocate for the creation of standardized tests and accountability measures for these subjects in order for them to gain more credibility in the eyes of the current crop of reformers? Or should educators advocate for a  reduction in the frequency of testing and some of the accountability provisions in order to allow breathing room for exposure to other subjects? I believe that landing somewhere in the middle is the only way these subjects will have any increased value in the education arena. 

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