Friday, March 18, 2005

What If There Were No NCLB? -

This post has a lot to say. Yes, there are other, better, ways to improve education in the U.S. besides NCLB.

Also, from Gerald Bracey, "BILL GATES, IF YOU’RE SO RICH, HOW COME YOU’RE NOT SMART?" "I do congratulate you for focusing some attention on economically deprived schools. Alas, you and the governors appear to think that school reform can, all by itself overcome their problems. But poor students arrive at school behind their middle class peers. As measured by tests, they learn the same amount during the school year, but lose the gains over the summer, leaving them farther behind. You and the governors should look for ways to eliminate the factors that cause poor children to lose ground during the months when the schools are closed." Fat Chance.

And from the Albuquerque Tribune a commentary, Why Testing Fails. "Testing, or what politicians deem "accountability," has run amok in our schools...The tests that are being imposed on students are not tools educators can use to guide instruction. They are used to rank schools, and because there are so many flaws to the one-size-fits-all assessment, they are inaccurate tools. While standardized testing is one piece of assessment we can use to reflect on education, testing should not dominate the educational process...Accountability in its current form is destroying education. Education is the backbone of democracy. We can use assessment to guide instruction, and education, when properly implemented, can lessen achievement gaps. We have data from recent decades. Why are we ignoring data and subjecting our children to this scrutiny that does not produce accurate and usable information? Citizens, speak up."
Here, here!


Indiana Public School Superintendent said...

Standardized testing can be useful, but America's absolute obsession with ranking and rating everything including schools, is damaging.

Sometimes there is no significance between the schools ranked 1-20, but try telling that to the parents in the school ranked 20.

The differences can be so small as to be non-sensical.

But for some in America, being good isn't enough if you haven't climbed over your neighbor to get there.

I think some sections of NCLB have caused schools to become more interested in studying best practices, but I have more cynical opinions about why the bill became a law. All in all, it is a horrible piece of legislation.

I will probably my opinion on it on The Super's Blog in the future.

NO said...

You are right, NCLB has caused many schools to be more interested in best practices. Ironically I think many of these schools were already doing a good job of educating their students, but none of us are reaching all of our students, and we must continue to try. Unfortumately, many other schools are just being turned into test prep centers, and many of these are exactly the inner city schools that this nasty law purports to reach. As to why the bill became law, it's because the Business Roundtable and the corporate education community are out to destroy free public education in our country. Milton Friedman said education should be driven by market forces. Bullshit!

EdWonk said...

As a practicing classroom teacher, I get very concerned when I hear the statement, "Schools should be run like businesses."

A school is not a business, and students are not merchandise. They're kids.

Even though my own site is just "right of center" I have stated this belief several times.

I really wish that the chronically-under-funded NCLB hadn't of come around.

The overemphasis on testing has proven to be a disaster. Down here in California, instruction (in the lower grades) focuses on reading and math (which are tested) and history, science, and physical education (which are not tested) are neglected.

But now that it has, my chief gripe with it is that only teachers and site administrators are being held "accountable."

What is missing is any accountability for parents and students themselves.

Educational achievement (and success) relies on all three.

I believe that you have an important message (even though we may disagree on some things) to tell, and would bring a new viewpoint to our readers.

I'll be adding your site to the EduSphere over at the 'Wonks later this weekend.

Joe Thomas said...

Great find, Jack! Keep up the great work.

Darren said...

I'm a high school math teacher in California and support NCLB. It has a few flaws--what compromise legislation doesn't?--but overall it's a fantastic piece of legislation.

For the other side of the story, I invite you to visit my blog at, and specifically read

Anonymous said...

As a parent who has been studying our public school system from the outside looking in using the state and district provided data, NCLB has many good points. The primary ones are the disaggregated data, the forcing of special ed teachers/directors to provide the general curriculum to special ed kids, finally begin to design a program to get kids out of MIP-conduct classes where to date they have been lost (primarily African American males).

Yet, it causes the group I am a part of tons of headaches. We know that tests are only one form of measuring how well schools are doing. District assessments used at the beginning and end of the year are another.

Our challenge, and we have yet to receive an answer, so I would appreciate feedback is -- what other items would you (the district administration) want a citizens panel to review when they are trying to decide how well the school district is doing?

Our district has a strategic plan, but it is not updated to show the results of the stated objectives, we have ENDS statements and we have adopted policy governance at the board level. The annual reports from the school district do not tie back to the strategic plan, either.

Yet, we have not had the question I asked above answered.

Thanks so much -- keep up the great work!


Anonymous said...


One reason that NCLB is dangerous is that it can be a sloppy way of determining overall academic change in a school.

NCLB requires schools to calculate the percentage of students that "Pass" a state test. Nothing wrong with that in general. But, there are only two categories to improve in on a Pass/Fail accountability system.

You guessed it, Pass and Fail.

A school could implement a rigorous remediation program that is outstanding for poor readers and multitudes of students could improve greatly but still fall just below the cut scores. They are still failures according to AYP and yet the progress made by the students and the school could be substantial. On the other hand, many of them may make it over the cut score and are now Passes.

Simultaneously, the school could choose consciously or unconsciously to ignore the top readers. They could lose ground over the years and still be passing the cut score. Many schools that use norm-referenced testing will see students fall out of the 90 percentiles and fall into the middle.

You asked what else could be done for accountability.

I believe that changes in quartile distributions could be looked at. Schools could also track changes in mean scale scores and could also calculate mean scale scores for subgroups that NCLB tracks.

These measures usually provide more precise measurements than a Pass Fail system. In other words, NCLB is like measureing your kitchen table with a yardstick marked only in yards. More precise measurements would be like using a yardstick marked in millimeters.

The simple charts printed in the newspaper will show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is being made but it covers up tremendous shifts in the overall achievement of the population.

I require our schools to use scale scores and other more precise measurements to calculate mean changes in the overall achievement in our school district. This is in addition to NCLB.

We also calculate effect sizes to see if the changes were small, medium, large etc. This gives us some idea if the changes could be due to our school improvement efforts.

If these terms are unusual to you, there should be someone in your state's testing offices that could also explain some of it.

NCLB does bring some accountability to the table - that can be good. But the business community's fixation on ranking everyone is extremely damaging and can give a very incomplete look at the health of a school.

Having said ALL that "stuff" above, I agree with many others that testing mania will eventually be our downfall.

Why can't we ever find the middle ground?

The Super Blogger

Anonymous said...

Super Blog -- thank you! I will take your suggestions back to our group.

I have one more question -- do school systems benchmark themselves against other "like" systems? If so, how do they choose similar systems and set the benchmarks.

Thanks again --