High Stakes: Children, Testing, and Failure in American Schools

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9780742517882: High Stakes: Children, Testing, and Failure in American Schools
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High Stakes Testing, Poverty, and Failure in American Schools is a critical ethnography of one year in one of the most impoverished schools in America. Redbud Elementary School in Redbud, Louisiana has 611 students, 95 percent of whom qualify for free breakfast and free lunch. Many of the children who attend Redbud are the poorest of the poor. Their homes are substandard and include trailers, shotgun houses, and housing project apartments. Some lack electricity, running water, and flooring. Most of the children, 80 percent of whom are African American, live with a single parent, an aunt, or a grandmother who hold minimum-wage jobs. Many of the children do not receive medical or dental care. Their neighborhoods teem with alcohol and drug abuse. Several pupils have witnessed shootings and other types of violence. Louisiana was the first state and is now one of eight states in the nation that mandates failure and grade repetition for elementary and middle school students who do not pass an end-of-year high stakes test. The authors taught third and fourth grade full time for one school year at Redbud Elementary, and this book tells the story of that year. Three major themes are addressed throughout the book: the grinding effects of acute poverty on all aspects of life, the negative consequences of the continuing drive for higher test scores in public schools, and the unreasonable demands placed on children, teachers, and administrators. Other issues surface in the book: the rising growth of for-profit ventures feeding off the accountability movement, the developing alliances between policymakers and corporate profiteers, and the federal government's increasing domination of public schooling. Readers may note similarities between Redbud Elementary and underfunded public schools in their own states. The story of Louisiana's Redbud typifies the unfolding national tragedy in the way poor children are being 'educated' because of self-serving political and corporate interests.

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About the Author:

Dale D. Johnson is professor of literacy education at Dowling College on Long Island. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin and was a profesor there for 16 years. Dr. Johnson has been an elementary and middle school teacher in Wisconsin and Louisiana and was on the faculties of Katsina College in Nigeria and the University of Louisiana. He is a past-president of the International Reading Association. Dr. Johnson has authored and co-authored 12 books, including Vocabulary in the Elementary and Middle School (2001, Allyn and Bacon). Bonnie Johnson is professor of human development and learning at Dowling College on Long Island. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin where she was granted the 'Distinguished Teacher of Teachers' award. Dr. Johnson has taught elementary school in Wisconsin and Louisiana and has been a professor at Texas A&M, the University of Louisiana, and Clarke College. She has published for children, adolescents, and adults. In addition to journal articles, she is the author of Wordworks: Exploring Language Play (1999, Fulcrum).


High Stakes: Children, Testing and Failure in American Schools is a compelling read. It presents a dramatic picture of what it's like to be a teacher or a student in schools where grinding poverty is the overarching reality. The reader will also find convincing evidence that schools are burdened with high expectations that are not receiving the significant levels of funding and professional development they need. This book is a 'must-read' for all concerned professionals, policy makers, and parents. It will make you angry, it will make a difference. (Alan Farstrup)

High Stakes enables us to feel, see, and experience first-hand the privilege and oppression of high stakes testing. The Johnsons explain how and why there is daily suppression of real teaching and learning. The voices of the children that the Johnsons taught remain with you long after you close their book. (Grant, Carl A.)

A critical, passionate, firsthand account of the 2000-01 school year in a Redbud, LA, elementary school. The authors challenge the effectiveness of using standardized tests to make decisions in a school that lacks basic amenities and suffers from excessive student and teacher stress. They provide numerous examples, clear descriptions, and a deep appreciation for the role of teachers to illustrate the dire consequences of this emphasis on testing. The closing chapter offers recommendations for concerned professionals, policymakers, and parents. Education collections in both public and academic libraries would be strengthened by the addition of this clear, research-based discussion. (Library Journal)

High Stakes is a poignant look at the reality of public schools today. (The Louisiana Weekly)

A book so compelling that it just might become a classic. (American School Board Journal American School Board Journa)

What we haven't heard in some time, though, is a first-person account of schooling this harrowing and honest. Let's hope that High Stakes finds readers in high places. (Www.Teachermagazine.Org)

Compelling book....They argue their case skillfully....To their credit, Johnson, Johnson, Farenga, and Ness challenge us to do something within our reach toward making things right: Stop high-stakes testing, and spend the money on teaching and learning. (Luanna H. Meyer Psyccritiques)

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