All of the Testing, None of the Guilt
Call it “No Child Left Behind-Lite,” but if it passes, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 would still pack enough calorie-rich standardized testing to weigh down what education should be. If you like the passive-aggressive nature of the federal government’s healthcare law, you’re going to love the latest proposed NCLB-revision bill in the Senate. If you like your test scores, you can keep your test scores, because the federal government doesn’t want them. In fact, under this bill, the federal government would still mandate yearly testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as it did under NCLB, but it won’t tell the states how to use the scores it collects. Under the old NCLB, schools were required to use these scores to meet AYP, or “adequate yearly progress,” or face sanctions as severe as eventual shutdown. Under the Senate’s current compromise, there would be no more federally-mandated consequences for low test scores, but there would still be federally-mandated testing. When it comes to standards, the compromise measure says that “states decide what academic standards they will adopt, without interference from Washington.” It also reveals that the federal government will not “mandate or incentivize” states to adopt any particular benchmarks, “including Common Core.” Clearly, the intent here is to de-federalize education. But in the words of one education blogger, “What does it really matter if you kick Arne out of the house when the whole family is dysfunctional?” So what about that family? The family is one that demands tangible evidence of learning, evidence reflected in numerical scores. To some degree, that is understandable. Grades have been around since the earliest days of public education. The family’s dysfunction, though, stems from the resulting addiction to testing, resulting in serious problems in education. More tests mean less instructional time. More multiple-choice tests, which are also the fastest ones to grade, mean less focus on important life skills like critical thinking. Some even argue that high-stakes testing and pressure to perform lead to cheating, and claim that was a factor behind the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal. One need only to look at “opt out” movements in states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and others to see how some parents are reacting to the many tests their kids have to take. And yet, even under the newly proposed Every Child Achieves Act, standardized testing is still the “meat” of federal education policy. Keep in mind that this is only a Senate committee’s proposal, yet some are praising it as a real fix, in part because key Senate Democrats and Republicans worked together to craft it. No doubt, compromise in Washington is a rare event. There are other provisions of the bill that address early childhood education, support for English Language Learners and teacher professional development, among other points. And some see it as a good start toward an NCLB overhaul. Senator Patty Murray has called it “an important step” toward fixing NCLB. But maybe a better step would be to ask the experts – educators – for their ideas to fix the NCLB mess. Maybe those who work with students on a daily basis are the best cooks in this kitchen. They are best qualified to determine which — and how many — assessments truly measure student progress and learning in all the important skills that go beyond multiple choice, all while attempting to keep learning interesting and dare we say it…fun. If this were the scenario, my guess is that these master chefs would prepare something that contained far more teaching and learning “protein” and far less testing “fat.” The opinions expressed here are solely those of Donna Krache.