The Problem with Testing: Public vs. Private

By: Alexandra Narin

The United States has gained a reputation as having a second-rate school system due to subpar test scores. However, the United States spends more money per student for education than any other country, averaging $10,800 per year per student.
Many wondering how it is possible for the United States to spend so much with so few results, are turning to alternative versions of schooling, such as private schools. Although conversations over private versus public schools have existed for generations, this debate is steadily becoming more heated. The controversy over what type of schooling one endorses has made schools a touchy subject, as Micky Morrison, mother of two, told CNN: “It’s [private versus public school] sort of like politics … one of those things that we don’t even bring up.”

Morrison no longer talks about schooling because she hears replies based on school stereotypes, for instance, the presumption that private schools are more uptight when regarding standardized testing. While it is a widespread thought that private schools place more emphasis on standardized tests, public and private schools alike rely on testing for their ranking.

Another assumption is that private schools must be better than public schools, because private schools cost more. And although it is true that private schools often cost far more than public schools, people do not realize that while public schools get funding from the government, private schools are funded only by tuition, grants, and donations. In fact, a recent study by Sarah Theule Lubienski, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that when she factored out the affluent backgrounds of students, private schools were actually underperforming against public schools.

In light of this new study by Lubienski, a growing number of people are blaming standardized tests across the board as the cause of mediocre school results, saying that students are no longer truly learning, but just being “taught to the test.” Ron Maggiano, veteran teacher of West Springfield High School, quit his job over standardized testing stating, “the obsession with high-stakes standardized tests is stifling creativity and imagination.”

As an increasing number of parents question the value of standardized testing, these same parents are beginning to look to their neighborhood schools. The new standardized test, the Smarter Balanced test, will be implemented in Oregon starting this year, and already record numbers of students are opting out of the new testing. While this is bad news for schools who depend on the standardized tests for school rankings, parents claim that the tests do not accurately assess students; instead, they set students up to fail.

“It is estimated that almost 70 percent of students will fail the assessment [the Smarter Balanced Test] – yet anyone who talks with young people knows that 70 percent of kids are not failures,” adjunct assistant professor in Portland State University’s Graduate School of Education Maika J. Yeigh said.

Another reason Maggiano said standardized testing is harming the success of United State’s schooling is that “the obsession with standardized tests is promoting a culture of cheating in many schools.” In fact, statistics show that cheating among high school students has risen dramatically during the past 50 years. Sixty to seventy percent of high school students have reported they have cheated, and 90 percent of students have admitted to copying another student’s homework, according to The Atlantic. Part of the increase in cheating can be contributed to a shift in student’s attitude toward cheating. When The Atlantic interviewed students, they heard the same answer time and time again: that cheating in school is “a dress rehearsal for life.” Students referenced President Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal and the inconsistencies of the court system as examples of cheating in life. When ABC World News interviewed Mary, a student at a large university in the South, she said, “A lot of people think it’s like you’re not really there [at school] to learn anything. You’re just learning to learn the system.”

As concern grows over the United States’ school system, parents and students alike find that private schools and public schools approach teaching the same way – through standardized testing. Perhaps the best way to teach is not through age-old controversies and divisions in types of schooling, but to look at teaching with a different perspective: one less focused on standardized tests and with less pressure to get such good grades that students feel they are forced into cheating in order to maintain their 4.0 GPAs.

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