To the Editor:
Charles Barone is correct that “open source” assessments would be useful tools for improving the way we measure student progress (“Could ‘Open Source’ Testing Help Resolve the Testing Impasse?,” Commentary, Nov. 19, 2008). Test items should be available for teachers to use as they see fit, and should also be open to parent review. A few could be administered more uniformly, such as in the National Assessment of Educational Progress or by states.
Still, the primary evidence of student progress ought to come from the classroom. Mr. Barone fears that without centrally controlled tasks, schools would use different and unequal yardsticks. National and international evidence, however, shows that we can obtain adequate comparability using classroom-based measures. This could be done through a mix of clearly defined standards for accountability assessments, centrally rescored work samples from classrooms, inspections by education agencies, and cross-checking through modest amounts of traditional testing, as well as the open-source assessments. The draft U.S. House bill of August 2007 to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act would have supported these as possible options.
Unfortunately, Mr. Barone declines to deal with any of the federal law’s other basic flaws, such as an unrealistic goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014, school and district “failure” fabricated from arbitrary “adequate yearly progress” rules, and “accountability” based solely on math- and reading-test scores. Simply adding better assessments to an unworkable, punitive system is not a solution. Instead, federal education law needs a comprehensive overhaul, as outlined in the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, signed by nearly 150 national education, civil rights, parent, religious, disability, and civic groups (www.edaccountability.org).
High-quality assessments are not silver bullets. Let’s stop pretending that schools alone—never mind tests alone—can overcome poverty and racism. Fund school systems sufficiently and equitably, hold them accountable for improving education, provide extra assistance for those that need it, and intervene if they are unable to improve. But don’t expect that schools or assessments will magically create equality among students who start life with deeply unequal opportunities.
Parents United for Responsible Education
A version of this article appeared in the December 10, 2008 edition of Education Week as Adding Better Assessments is Not NCLB Law’s Solution