No Time for NCLB Lite

June 14, 2011 at 11:29 AM Leave a comment

Twitter tells us that testing is bad for everyone. I disagree. I love the changes I have seen in my students as they have grown in knowledge and maturity while meeting the challenge of high stakes tests. Yes…urban students with special needs, many with English language fluency issues as well. They can do it. Oh, and, by the way, they are the very children we are not supposed to leave behind.

The digital v. analog paradigm shift is an artifact of history. However, as an analog person, I see a similar conflict between the process people and those with a results orientation. Educators tend to build processes, while education policy has moved in the direction of results. This may be no less intuitive than the shift to a digital world. Why does everyone seem so surprised that teachers might benefit from a lesson in translating their processes into results?

As process people, teachers design ways for students to engage in learning, constantly inventing and reinventing the path to knowledge. They can manage a classroom. They can direct instruction. But, they cannot control the student’s moment of knowing. As students struggle, educators tend to tighten any controls they can. Yet the student’s independent thought is essential to success in applied problem solving. This has become one of the classic conflicts in education.

In the current politicized climate, teachers must learn some new tricks…and apply them persuasively… while being observed by the hanging judge. This external control works no better for adults than it does for children. So how can we step back from this rhetoric without taking our eyes off the ultimate goal for our children? I will hypothesize that we can keep the tests, maintain the benchmarks for English language learners and students with special needs, and achieve the desired results. However, we must make partners of all educators, not sort them by individual results. And we must pay them collectively for results at least in the short run.

Twitter tells us that testing is bad for everyone. I disagree. I love the changes I have seen in my students as they have grown in knowledge and maturity while meeting the challenge of high stakes tests. Yes…urban students with special needs, many with English language fluency issues as well. They can do it. Oh, and, by the way, they are the very children we are not supposed to leave behind.

It is crunch time for NCLB; time for the sprint to the finish. Unfortunately, instead of working together to achieve our collective goal, we are engaging in vicious hunts for scapegoats and building hyperbolic arguments against testing. Suddenly, “the current testing environment” has been redefined as value-added testing in every subject at the beginning and end of every school year. That is not NCLB. However, this device has led many to question testing altogether, sadly removing accountability for the students who are most in need of the benefits of that accountability.

“Teaching to the test” has become the lowest common denominator among educators who have succeeded with achievement tests. It has been highlighted as an argument against testing…because it rewards bad instruction. I would suggest that schools where teaching to the test was needed to improve test scores must have had a pre-existing history of substandard instruction. In fact, teaching to the test may be a necessary evil during the transition to higher level instruction.

Educators with lowered expectations do not attempt to give all students access to the curriculum. As they teach to the test and the bar keeps rising, however, these same teachers are forced to broaden their students’ skill set. It begins with a core set of skills that are always tested. Then, critical thinking skills are deepened. New test content expands the breadth of topics that must be covered. Higher benchmark scores require students to be even bettered prepared. As more and more students achieve success, even skeptical educators find themselves getting closer and closer to teaching the full curriculum.

It has not been a pretty process, but 2014 was not set as a deadline for testing. It set the pace for all teachers to learn how to give all students access to a competitive curriculum. This goal must not be forgotten. It is time to set aside our differences and make it happen.

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Entry filed under: ESEA-NCLB, Student Outcomes.

Zero Tolerance for Abuse Treading Teachers

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