To the Editor:
According to David C. Berliner and Sharon L. Nichols (“High-Stakes Testing Is Putting the Nation at Risk,” Commentary, March 14, 2007), asking for high performance from every child is an outlandish request, because each child is different. But why should differences preclude high performance? Their reasoning demonstrates why the federal No Child Left Behind Act exists.
The authors also say that mandating the same rate of progress for every child is absurd; yet, the legislation does not require students to progress at the same rate. Rather, it proposes the same “due date.” Some students may reach the goal sooner, but is it really acceptable to have the due date as infinity?
When achievement gains are the performance measure, low-performing students are seen as assets, not liabilities, because a teacher has a better chance of showing progress.
Mr. Berliner and Ms. Nichols also find fault with the narrowing of the curriculum as a result of testing. Since conquering basics is often required before tackling other curriculum areas, however, some narrowing is not necessarily bad. The challenge is to creatively narrow the curriculum (when needed) without boring students to death, and then to expand it as students grasp the fundamentals.
The authors’ comparison of teachers to doctors should also be examined further. Doctors are not held accountable for outside factors influencing their patients’ health, but they are held responsible if they give the wrong treatment. Performance measures are a natural aspect of every job, and organizational-performance measurement is a dynamic process requiring recalibrations over time. As grade inflation increases, moreover, standardized tests may become indispensable because of their evenhandedness.
Though Mr. Berliner and Ms. Nichols’ Commentary presents problematic premises for its conclusions, the conclusions themselves warrant consideration. There are many ways the No Child Left Behind law can be improved.
Helping tests help teachers is a worthy goal. But there is virtually no funding at present for the infrastructure needed to do this.
Education Policy Researcher
A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2007 edition of Education Week as Worthy Goal Is ‘Helping Tests Help Teachers’