To the Editor:
Many observers have noted that the farther you get from the classroom, the stronger the support for the No Child Left Behind Act becomes. Nonetheless, it is disheartening to see political proposals from on high that are more likely to worsen than solve the federal law’s many flaws.
For example, experienced teachers say that the central problem with No Child Left Behind-mandated testing is not the varying state standards, but that it forces “teaching to the test” and results in a narrowed curriculum. New proposals for a national exam, like the congressionally rejected schemes offered by the previous two presidents, and like No Child Left Behind itself, are yet another magic bullet that will not address root causes of learning difficulties. That will require sustained school improvements with the resources to match. For real improvement, high-quality, teacher-led assessment is what is really useful, not annual standardized tests.
Moreover, treating the National Assessment of Educational Progress as the gold standard would be a terrible mistake. First, like most state tests, NAEP exams are only limited measures of what students ought to be learning. Second, researchers from the National Academy of Sciences and the Government Accountability Office, among many others, have found the NAEP proficiency levels to be flawed and inappropriately difficult. NAEP should not become, by mandate or inducement, the national accountability test.
Rather than promote unsound testing schemes, Congress should heed the advice of the 100 organizations that have endorsed the “Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind.” That statement calls for a “shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.” The full statement can be found on the Forum on Educational Accountability’s Web site (www.edaccountability.org) and on the FairTest Web site (www.fairtest.org).
National Center for Fair & Open Testing
A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2007 edition of Education Week as Let Systemic Changes Replace NCLB Sanctions