The End of Grade Tests, Opting Out of Testing and the Example of Korea

This article should be entitled “The Education Race,” or something similar. This past week media news again bubbled over with a story on parents’ all over the country opting out, or refusing to have their children tested in the upcoming “End of Grade” or “EOG” tests. I saw an article about Korea’s educational system that is rigidly test results driven and would commend it highly to the reader.

One professional tidbit that helped this disquieting article about the growing trends in American education, is that for many years I have taught my medical and psychiatric trainees about the cultural dimensions to the world wide phenomenon of suicide. In the last decade or more I have included the mostly modern example of the religious or suicide bomber form of killing oneself. But I have more strongly cited the phenomenon in the test and admission into college countries such as Japan and Korea as a unique, culturally specific example of suicide. This is the annual jumping off of buildings from skyscraper windows in decades past in May when aspiring students are not accepted into the premier colleges in the their countries such as Tokyo University. Japan as part of its strengthening of its tall buildings’ codes to withstand earthquakes, mandated that windows in tall buildings could not be opened from the inside to prevent the young distraught, depressed, suicidal aspiring but rejected student from opening a window ten floors up from the street and jumping by the dozens to their deaths every year during admissions acceptance letter season. Nowadays the students tend to jump from tall open parking structures since many buildings no longer lend themselves to jumping from heights as they did, say in the 1970’s when this was an annual tragic news story.

I remember over 12 years ago starting to see teachers in my practice who were havinh stress related anxiety and depressive reactions. It was no mistake. The No Child Left Behind initiative of then President George W. Bush was starting to have its unintended effect upon teachers who were fearing for their jobs and truly in some but enough cases, being fired. The reason was that their testing averages were not high enough and they were held “accountable,” and if the aggregate scores of one’s class were too low, you lost your job, were more heavily “supervised,” and criticized/critiqued, re-instructed, sent to workshops etc. Teachers I worked with voiced bitter complaints and some actually left the profession though most felt trapped economically, having a mortgage, a family, car payments and could not suddenly stop working to go back to college or graduate education and professionally retool for so many years.

At about the same time I started seeing children in my practice, since I am a child psychiatrist, coming for panic and stress anxiety reactions. They had no family histories of such in their families and it was puzzling for a while until parents started telling what was going on, and I, finally started listening and believing. At about the same time my wife and I had taken on our last adopted child, our fist son after girls only in the family. Our son turned out  to have ADHD and a few years after I caught on to what was going on with the stressors of children facing the EOGs, I saw the special testing accommodations for him start to erode and nearly disappear. He was and still is, very fortunately, a very even emotioned personality who is seemingly  blase’ about “the important stuff,” and does not get perturbed about things in an amazing way. But his testing and performance suffered and we began to elect to have him sit out EOGs unless his mandated IEP (Individual Education Plan) was observed; in effect we went on a sit down strike and forced the school’s hand. We finally elected to have him enroll in a local charter school that proved to be more diverse than that county’s regular public school population, and he had a wonderful educational experience through his 8th grade.

It is now clear that the No Child Left Behind and even the Common Core Curriculum are perverting the American educational system to a test results driven methodology that is not good for the individual student, any school’s mission, or the nation’s educational duty and responsibility. The above article referenced holds a warning that we are not heeding in the policy planner, governmental educational agencies. Parents and teachers certainly know this is bogus and destructive. I think by way of my own unsubstantiated opinion without evidence and factual statistics, that the recent continued increase in home schooling enrollment, is likley partially due to parents’ and children’s reactions to the soulless educational blind emphasis on “teaching to the test.” And I think we are missing the educational damage, flunking ourselves, current generations of students and paradoxically losing the “education race” among nations even if our national scores improve.


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