To the Editor:
I find it ironic that the authors of your recent Commentary disparaging the No Child Left Behind Act and standardized tests invoked the landmark 1983 report A Nation at Risk (“High-Stakes Testing Is Putting the Nation At Risk,” March 14, 2007).
Let’s examine what the report actually said about standardized tests. They “should be administered at major transition points from one level of schooling to another and particularly from high school to college or work,” it concluded. They should be part of a “nationwide (but not federal) system,” designed to “certify the student’s credentials” and “identify the need for remedial intervention.”
This is exactly what the No Child Left Behind Act promised and delivered. Its assessments, given to students annually in grades 3 through 8 (and once more before graduating), are not designed to punish failure, but to let teachers know what it will take to succeed, student by student.
Despite their rhetoric about “individual differences,” David C. Berliner and Sharon L. Nichols would have us return to the days when individual differences were blurred or swallowed whole by the system. Disadvantaged and minority students were lumped together into the overall averages and made practically invisible to the powers that be. Some were misdiagnosed and shunted into special-needs classes, or promoted up the grade ladder while falling further and further behind in their studies.
Since No Child Left Behind was passed, reading and math scores have risen sharply and achievement gaps have narrowed to record lows. Urban school districts and limited-English-proficient students have made even greater progress than the nation as a whole. Hundreds of thousands of students in underperforming schools now qualify for free tutoring or transfer to a public school with a better learning environment. And, according to independent studies, at-risk students are enjoying more classroom time and attention than before.
Given this positive record, why should we listen to writers who vilify teachers who disagree with them as “traitors to their own profession”? The short answer is, we shouldn’t. We should instead work together to fine-tune and reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law, and use it as a tool to lift our students even higher.
Deputy Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 2007 edition of Education Week as Testing Critics Ignore Law’s ‘Positive Record’