Congressional testing plan raises questions

I don’t suppose too many rabid sports fans have been following the progress in Congress of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” education bill. The bill’s key to success in education is testing children in grades 3-8 every year.

To public educators (coaches in classrooms) here comes another scrimmage in the name of another president. Democrats want spending on poor schools to be a player and Republicans believe freedom to transfer away from failing schools is a starter. Test scores will be posted on a national scoreboard. The competitors are 8-14-year-old children.

Tauntingly, the bill is labeled House Bill No. 1. Numbers are really important in sports, but maybe the bill’s title should be “Lowest Score Loses” or “Losers Are Out of the League.”

For $26.3 billion, Congress should have more reasonable expectations from education and schools than passing tests. Even in world competition, half the teams score higher than the other half. By a big political pep talk, maybe the “fear of losing” will result in better coaching and improved scoring.

Coaches know a few basic ways of “testing” that produces higher achievement. They track each player’s strengths and weaknesses as kids progress toward the varsity. By discovering the best position for each student-athlete, coaches prepare kids in all aspects of the game for the ultimate test – making the team better. Team Education USA, that is.

But each national testing competition will be played on each state’s home court. Furthermore, the “No Child Left Behind” bill doesn’t require the same test be used statewide. On the field or in the classroom, learners and teams rise to the level of the competition if given enough time, help and numbers to prepare.

Improving the “team average” can seem overwhelming. Resources and poverty, human and material, are deemed to be the No. 1 factor influencing low scores on any test. Sports poverty is usually determined by absence of skill and experience.

Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair &Open Testing, an advocacy group, believes “reducing education to what can be tested means many low-income children will be taught only the basics … (and) will dictate to states that kids get dumbed-down test prep.”

Dumbing-down could be a coaching disaster in education sports. Under House Bill 1, school report cards will be required to include the quality of teachers. The key to any offense (or defense) is the criteria/person/system that scores quality.

Let’s compare some of the bill’s features with school activities:

  • HB 1 appropriates $400 million for states to develop annual tests for grades 3-8. (Interscholastic sports tests are administered season and about twice a week.)

  • Positive progress is required from all groups. (Immediate response by coaches to results of the last test.)

  • Early reading programs based on national research are to be included. (Walking is the only prerequisite to participation in sports, but ignoring health and welfare research is too prevalent.)

  • Includes focus on spending in poor schools, with most of the money going to the poorest schools. (Not so in athletics, where the amount of support at the gate is directly related to the win-loss record. The rich get richer.)

    There appear to be some double reverses occurring in the direction being taken by sports. Education sports may be confusing their purposes. Consider these spin-offs:

  • Commercialization. CBS is paying $6.2 billion – yes, billion – for rights to sell advertisements during their televising of the NCAA basketball tournament for the next 10 years.

  • One-half of the NCAA Division I colleges violated at least one NCAA rule last year.

  • Academic integrity of major colleges in their recruiting is being studied to see whether academics are truly in the mix.

    Are school sports responsible for serving the needs of youth and educational purposes?

  • Sixty-one percent of U.S. children are overweight, and adults’ percentages are higher. (Physical Education in high schools is no longer required for graduation.)

  • Advice ignored – exercise, get off the couch and go to the playground. (Recent headline – King County soccer field being closed).

  • Thirty minutes of walking per day will control weight. (Each day the “average child” reclines before a screen for more hours than he/she attends school.)

    It shouldn’t take a congressional edict to get us off the couch and play or study with our children. The real tests are being failed by someone other than the children.

    Cliff Gillies, former executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, writes weekly during the school year for The Herald. His mailing address is 7500 U.S. Highway 101, South Bend, WA 98586. His e-mail address is cliffsal@techline.com.

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