Darling-Hammond’s Views Will Be Part of Testing Debate

December 09, 2008 1 min read

Education Sector’s Tom Toch gives the rundown on Linda Darling-Hammond’s latest thoughts about the role of assessments in school reform efforts. He deconstructs the Stanford University professor’s article in Phi Delta Kappan examining other countries’ performance-based tests, and he wonders how Darling-Hammond might use these ideas if she retains influence over the Obama administration’s policies. (Only the abstract is free online.) Toch concludes:

So, if Barack Obama gives Linda Darling-Hammond a major role in his administration, we're going to have a big policy debate over testing in American education and whether we should move beyond NCLB accountability to something potentially very different. Such a debate wouldn't be a bad thing.

True, and that’s why Darling-Hammond’s supporters and opponents are fighting so hard over who should be the next secretary of education and his or her advisers. Those are the people who will have to set the policies on what types of assessments the federal government pays for, requires states to use, and ultimately becomes the tools for judging schools’ success.

Darling-Hammond’s article updates her past statements on testing issues. Here’s one snippet:

Finland has no external standardized tests to rank students or schools. Finnish education authorities periodically evaluate school-level samples of student performance, generally at the end of the 2nd and 9th grades, to inform curriculum decisions and school investments.

The Finnish model goes against many of the core tenets of NCLB: annual testing and individual student results. Following that model would make it impossible to measure whether schools and districts are closing the achievement gap. President Bush and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings have been the most prominent proponents of these features. But many Democrats believe in them, too, including Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. And, don’t forget that President-elect Barack Obama has said that he endorses NCLB’s attempt to close the achievement gap.

Toch’s right. We’re in for a big debate over accountability.

P.S. Maybe Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey will take a break from his Finnish “vacation” to weigh in on whether the Finland’s accountability model could work in the U.S.

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.


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