In 2002, President George W. Bush signed signature legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, establishing educational policy that has defined many educational reform issues challenging public education today. The intended goal of NCLB was to “close student achievement gaps by providing all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. By the year 2014, all children were expected to be proficient or exceed proficiency, at grade level, in reading and math. NCLB established a regime of annual standardized testing for all children in grades 3-8 and once in high school to monitor this achievement.
Evidence of progress in the attainment of the NCLB goals is determined by an accountability system called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Applicable to states, individual schools and school districts the data collected from these standardized assessments to use to measure the academic performance (AYP)of all students, including subgroups such as students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners. A consequence of a school or school district not meeting AYP for two, three, four or more consecutive years leads to enforced reform plans, e.g. School Improvement or Turn Around Plans; charter conversion or outside school takeover in the most severe cases.
We are a year beyond the 2014 target date of the No Child Left Behind legislation, which has not achieved its goal. More and more schools, especially in urban districts like Buffalo are sinking further and further in the quicksand for not meeting AYP. As a result they are labeled as failures and headed for Receivership. At the same time, there is a growing movement that challenges the validity of the standardized testing, which provides the foundation for AYP. Over the last year I have written several articles about the push to limit or eliminate high stakes testing. The principal arguments are:
1) they are not developmentally appropriate – reading levels are far above the grade level being tested 2) the tests are not diagnostic; they don’t provide information that helps the teacher target student learning needs 3) almost all children take the same test, regardless of their ability or their English language proficiency; it’s a one size fits all approach 4) the emphasis on the tests encourages teaching to the test at the expense of time for other subjects 5) children are being demoralized and frustrated by long hours of testing 6) tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores is a mis-use of these measures. Additionally, questions have been raised about over-testing.
A newly released study by the Council of Great City Schools found that the average “student in the 66 districts (responding to the study) were required to take an average of 112.3 tests between pre-K and grade 12. (This number does not include optional tests, diagnostic tests for students with disabilities or English learners, school-developed or required tests, or teacher designed or developed tests.)”
This astounding finding, confirming the overuse of testing, is cited as contributing to the October 24th announcement, by outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, of a new Federal initiative entitled, Testing Action Plan. Supported by President Obama, the Testing Action Plan, seemingly agrees with many of the arguments against high stakes testing and offers an admission that : “In too many schools, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students, consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students. The Administration bears some of the responsibility for this, and we are committed to being part of the solution.”
Further, Duncan asserts that tests: “Done poorly, in excess, or without clear purpose, they take valuable time away from teaching and learning, draining creative approaches from our classrooms. In the vital effort to ensure that all students in America are achieving at high levels, it is essential to ensure that tests are fair, are of high quality, take up the minimum necessary time, and reflect the expectation that students will be prepared for success in college and careers.”
While this acknowledgement appears to confirm the position of many of us who oppose high stakes testing, the Plan does not call for a total revamping of the standardized testing machine that is undermining public education but rather seeks to manage it in a kinder, gentler manner. Not unlike the creation by Governor Cuomo of Common Core Task Force to review and make “recommendations to overhaul the current Common Core system and the way we test our students” in New York State, this federal “Plan” requires scrutiny and skepticism. I encourage readers to read Daniel Katz , as well as others, for an in depth analysis of the Duncan Plan. It is essential for the future education of our children that we continue the fight to eliminate the reliance on and inappropriate use of standardized testing.