To the Editor:
Most current “growth” models for educational accountability (“‘Growth Models’ Gaining in Accountability Debate,” Dec. 19, 2007) fail to address the public’s primary concern about the No Child Left Behind Act’s intense focus on testing: the reduction of curriculum and instruction to “teaching the test.” A growing majority of Americans recognize how narrow a slice of learning standardized exams measure and how unfair it is to make decisions based on such limited instruments.
Unfortunately, states and cities are implementing growth models that rely on existing standardized tests. They simply use the data differently. For example, when New York City evaluates schools using cohort and growth measures, it relies almost entirely on standardized test scores. This is not the use of multiple measures that educators, parents, and the public want and deserve.
To support improved instruction and higher achievement, states need to construct assessment systems that include multiple sources of evidence of learning and school well-being. Existing practices in some states, such as Nebraska, and in other nations can be the basis for developing such systems. (Numerous pieces proposing alternative accountability possibilities are on the FairTest Web site at www.fairtest.org.) The 142 groups signing the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB support this approach.
Of course, such assessments must be used to help schools, rather than punish them the way the No Child Left Behind law does. The next authorization of the law must make it a priority to promote educationally beneficial assessment. Such changes deserve far more attention than growth measures based on existing tests.
National Center for Fair & Open Testing
A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2008 edition of Education Week as Accountability Systems Need Many Data Sources