Does Testing Spell Success Or Stress For Phoenix Schools?

As the fifth largest city in the United States, Phoenix, Arizona offers a sunny climate, a diverse culture and a unique set of challenges for the educators and administrators of Phoenix Schools. Addressing the needs of the large number of English as a Second Language (ESL) students, a huge proportion of low-income families, and the typical urban problems like high drop out rates, are among the issues of Phoenix Schools.

So it’s not surprising that meeting the state standards, as enacted by President’ Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act”, has severely stressed some Phoenix Schools. But what about the stress those tests put on the children of the Phoenix Schools? Controversy between some parents in Central Phoenix and the school administration resulted in a group protest outside of Indian School Elementary last week.

A small group made up of parents, students and a private counselor picketed to protest the current practice of testing elementary students of Phoenix Schools. Parents, and a former educator and counselor Jane Fendelman, claim that third to fifth grade students are over-stressed about these “high-stakes tests.” Fendelmen says the number of stressed out students in her practice has increased dramatically over recent years. This argument is not unique to the Phoenix Schools. Educators and parents nationwide have debated the benefits of testing for years.

While most states instituted some sort of the testing prior to 2002, the SAT, which is administered in 11th grade, was the main source of testing stress, and that mainly for college bound Phoenix Schools’ teens. But the “No Child Left Behind Act” ties yearly promotion to successful test results for children.

Arizona superintendent of schools, Tom Horne, has stated that, “Standards are meaningless unless you test them…. anyone who continues to be an advocate for mediocrity should get out of education….” And that is the really point of contention for all sides. How do Phoenix Schools enforce reasonable standards and produce well-rounded and emotionally stable children?

In Phoenix Schools, the point has great impact. The Roosevelt District has consistently tested below all others despite higher per student funding. Phoenix Schools currently are rated with the AZ LEARNS guidelines. These are based on the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), which compares state testing results of individual schools. Like all Arizona public schools, the Phoenix Schools use the AIMS test for both elementary and high schools students.

Phoenix Schools are given ratings of Excelling; High Performing; Performing; Under-performing; or Failure to meet academic standards. Parent concerns involve both failing schools, and the pressure to test successfully at such young ages. Educators also complain about “teaching to the test” rather than providing children with well-rounded academic instruction.

Still, it looks like the era of testing is in the Phoenix Schools for the foreseeable future. Whether the concerns of a small group of protesting parents have any impact against the pressure on politicians to “prove “ success has yet to be seen.

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