: Replacing No Child Left Behind
>230 G Street SW
> From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record],
> Wednesday, August 12, 2009, Volume 28, Issue 37, pp. 28-29. See
> Replacing No Child Left Behind
> By Richard Rothstein
> While promoting health-care reform this summer in Green Bay, Wis.,
> President Barack Obama took questions from the audience. One had nothing to do
> with health, but is on the minds of parents and teachers everywhere: How do we
> move the focus in education "away from single-day testing and test-driven
> outcomes?" There was applause.
> Mr. Obama responded by saying that if all we are doing is giving
> standardized tests and teaching to them, "that's not improving our education
> system." (Again, the audience applauded.) He repeated an aphorism he'd heard in
> rural Illinois: "Just weighing a pig doesn't fatten it." (Yet more applause.)
> The president then said that we need standardized testing, but that we
> can't hold schools or teachers accountable for scores alone. We also must look
> at the quality of students' ongoing work, and observe teachers in their
> classrooms to make valid judgments about their effectiveness.
> This approach undermines the basis of the federal No Child Left Behind
> Act, which now holds schools accountable only for math and reading scores. But
> recent Washington policy talk seems mostly concerned with improving the
> accuracy of math and reading tests. One common panacea offered is to compare
> scores of the same students from one year to the next, rather than
> comparing students in the same grade in successive years.
> Yet even if the statistical technology for such "value added" growth
> models could be developed (a big "if," given student mobility, the unreliability
> of a single test, and the nonrandom assignment of students to teachers),
> this "improvement" would not address the more fundamental issue the
> president raised: There's more to good education than math and reading scores.
> Last year, candidate Obama elaborated this theme. He said that No Child
> Left Behind was "intended to raise standards in local schools." But what
> happened, he said, was that, "because it relied on just a single standardized
> test, schools felt pressured to just teach to the test." In many districts,
> Mr. Obama maintained, teachers and principals have decided that if they are
> to bring their students up to the proficient level, "all they can do is
> just study math and reading every day, all day long. They've eliminated
> recess, they've eliminated art and music."
> "So part of the solution," Mr. Obama concluded, "is changing No Child Left
> Behind, so that the assessment is one that takes into account all the
> factors that go into a good education."
> Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which
> NCLB is the current version, has stalled because too few policymakers have
> considered how to implement the balanced approach that Mr. Obama has
> consistently invoked. Instead, mention of reauthorization paralyzes lawmakers, who
> fear public reaction to more testing, more narrowing of curriculum, and
> unrealistic expectations that schools can raise disadvantaged children's
> achievement simply by pressing them to prepare better for tests.
> Soon after the president's Green Bay speech, the Broader, Bolder Approach
> to Education [see http://www.boldapproach.org/ ] campaign issued
> recommendations about how this vision-holding schools accountable for a balanced set
> of learning goals-could be put into practice. The policy proposals were
> drafted by a diverse committee that included, among others, former assistant
> secretaries of education in the Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II
> The BBA report insists that designing better accountability will require
> experimentation. States will need highly trained inspectors who look at test
> data, but also visit schools to review students' written work, observe
> teaching quality, evaluate student behavior and the school climate, and
> determine whether schools provide appropriate social supports for children, by
> coordinating with health and social service providers and striving to ensure
> that appropriate early-childhood and after-school programs are available.
> Along with requiring states to develop qualitative school evaluation
> systems, reauthorization should also expand the National Assessment of
> Educational Progress, a federal test given to a sample of U.S. students. At present,
> these samples are only large enough to provide state-by-state results in
> reading and math. A recent arts assessment, for example, surveyed so few
> students that we can't know how arts education compares between states, or the
> extent to which disadvantaged children in the various states are getting
> shortchanged in the arts. Congress should increase the sample sizes to
> determine how states and their subgroups compare in the arts, history, sciences,
> physical fitness, and work skills.
> In its early years, NAEP reported on such varied school outcomes. Since
> the 1970s, however, the focus has been on getting more sophisticated math and
> reading measurements, reinforcing schools' incentives to ignore other
> knowledge and skills.
> As part of his embrace of common standards, U.S. Secretary of Education
> Arne Duncan has pledged to give states $350 million of economic-stimulus
> money to improve the quality of math and reading tests. We all want better math
> and reading assessments. But we should also invest in better tests of
> history, sciences, and the arts, and develop tools to evaluate student
> behavior, judge a school's disciplinary climate, see whether students know how to
> cooperate, and measure whether schools are enhancing physical fitness and
> appropriate health choices and habits.
> The federal government should hold all schools accountable for such a
> balanced approach-especially if the president wants continued applause when
> answering questions about education improvement.
> Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy
> Institute, a former national education columnist for The New York Times, and the
> author of Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right (2008). He is a
> member of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education Task
cell 202 285-3343
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