Wednesday, April 05, 2006

No Child Left Behind

I've been reading about No Child Left Behind. It seems like a fairly well-considered plan, all in all. However, there seem to be two major problems.

First, the mandate came from the Feds with little or no funding. As a result, the NEA, with support from many states, has filed suit against the US Department of Education, claiming that the Federal government should fund Federal mandates. Makes sense to me.

Second, although the goals of the program are lofty (making sure that all schools are "accountable" and that all students recieve a good education), it seems that all of these goals are going to be achieved through an increase in standardized testing.

Standardized testing has many problems, but allow me to point to a few. First, standardized testing resembles no activity in real life. Who has a job in the real world where they sit and fill in dots with a Number 2 pencil? Therefore, it doesn't teach any life skills, other than test taking, which is fu**ing goofy in my book.

As a result, we're going to see students who are very good at filling in lots of dots without knowing how to, for example, construct a simple bibliography.

The other issue is that only a small percentage of the population is good at standardized testing. Most students that I have seen immediately equate standardized testing with FAILING. That's been their experience in the past, so it becomes the present and future for them as well.

And I can understand. I have 11 years of college and can decipher all kinds of code/ texts written today or long ago. But when I read sample questions from standardized tests, I often become confused and agitated: "Do they mean this?" I think to myself. "Or not?" "Does the meaning of the question all hang on one word, or am I making it more complicated?"

Now I feel stupid.

Let's give standardized tests (at the high school senior level) to 100 random adults (college grads, even) and see how well they do. I'll bet many of them fail or at least struggle--even as they are otherwise successful in their professional lives. Better yet, let's give the test to Mr. Bush (since this is his plan) and see how well he does. I'll bet he gets stressed out and does poorly.

All this tells me that standardized tests are not very good barometers at measuring overall student performance.

In my opinion, too much emphasis on standardized testing will give this country a false sense that students are getting better and smarter, when in reality, they are only getting better at test taking and are ultimately less prepared for the real world.



Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I personaly think standardized testing should be abolished. "Standardized" is not really nationally standardized. It's impossible to compare students across the board. Even the SAT and ACT can't be relied upon, since not every student takes those tests.

Ralph said...

This is a great topic. I think a lot of our public education sucks and really needs a kick in the rear. Whether this is the right way to do it... I guess my thought is, before we tear this down, let's come up with a better plan. I mean I'm sure there are concientious teachers out there that aren't afraid to fail students that aren't learning, but there are also quite a few that are encouraged to push kids through, which leads to disaster. Aside from testing, how can we ensure that everybody is getting an equal opportunity in the form of a sound education? Should we be more conciencous about our testing and training of teachers? Oh yes, and a federally mandated program that not federally funded - not unusual at all.


DocTorDee said...

There are all kinds of options. The first is to prevent students from moving to the next grade unless they have completed all the necessary work.

If this means that they are 16 years old and still in the sixth grade, then so be it. Once they understand that they aren't going to pass unless they do all the work, then they'll begin viewing their projects with a different eye.

However, as it stands today, there is so much pressure to "push 'em through" that kids know they'll pass whether they do the work or not.

I'm saying that standards could be more universal. That's okay. The expectations for a high school freshman in Delaware should be the same for a public school student in Las Vegas.

The DoE could work with the NEA to create a combination of testing and projects--clear behavioral objectives--that each student would have to meet in order to move to the next grade.

The projects I'm talking about at the high school level should involve interviews, research, writing a paper, preparing a presentations, creating a documentary, coordinating an event...things along those lines.

Then, if you want to supplement this approach with standardized tests (to see if someone knows that Abe Lincoln was the 16th president of the US), then I handle that.

I just don't want to see the majority of the emphasis placed on the standardized tests. It's a fool's dream to put to much faith in standardized tests.

As just because it's not unusual for the federal government to issue non-funded mandates doesn't mean that the citizenry can't take this mandate--or potentially any mandate--into a courtroom.

Ralph said...

So, you're pushing for more of a standardized workload, which pretty much puts the power in the hands of the individual school districts and teachers, which is fine, as long as you can trust those people and have given them the tools to do their jobs. And then, of course, it comes down again to, who is responsible for providing those tools... such as smaller class sizes and special help for problem students..., which leads up back to the funding question, because what you have proposed is going to be more expensive than preparing for standardized tests. If we want to improve our public education system, we are going to have to put up some real money..

DocTorDee said...

Yes, money is certainly involved in any large-scale educaiotn initiative.

But please allow me to point out that we don't seem to mind paying $300 billion thus far for a war based on dubious circumstances, and we don't seem to mind paying ~$40,000 per year to incarcerate non-violent offenders in our prison houses.

So, yes, I'd like to see some "preventive" action taken in the area of education reform. And personally, I don't mind spending the tax dollars on education. I think it buys more than war does in the long run.


DocTorDee said...

Oh yes, I also wanted to comment on how my approach involves more than money; it also involves a change in attitude.

This actually leads into a philosophical debate: We live too much of our lives according to the clock. Now, time is nice; it helps coordinate things. But we don't have to be slaves to the clock to the point that we're pushing kids through school just because the calendar changes.

In other words, I would love to see more of a "objective" based system rather than a "time-based" system.

Eventually, we will reach the point where we begin to transcend "clock time" and begin organizing around accomplishing objectives that are outside the realm of time.


DocTorDee said...


College Board flunks math, gets 4,411 SAT scores wrong

Fri Apr 7, 7:12 AM ET

Jake DeLillo recalls a rainy Saturday last October when he took the all-important SAT college admissions test at Yorktown High School in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. As captain of the lacrosse team there, DeLillo, 17, had been recruited by several colleges. Then his SAT scores came in lower than expected, and his options appeared to shrivel. DeLillo picked a college only to discover later that his SAT had been scored incorrectly - 170 points shy of the accurate score.

Jake was one of 4,411 students who took the SAT on Oct. 8 whose tests were incorrectly scored. The foul-up raises troubling questions about quality control and candor at the College Board, which administers the exam, and about whether the test-processing industry as a whole has kept up with the surge of standardized tests being given to secondary school students.

So how did this happen, and could it happen again?

The College Board, based in New York, blames the weather. It says heavy rain on test day in the Northeast caused the test forms to swell, which threw off a mechanical scoring machine. And, although changes are being made, it could happen again, not just with the SAT but with a myriad of other tests high school students now take.

The College Board's gaffe prompted a chorus of critics to call for reduced testing. That misses the point. For decades, the problem with K-12 schools has been the lack of accountability. For better or worse, correcting that problem requires exams. It is the only way for colleges to compare knowledge levels of applicants from differing schools and backgrounds.

The key issue is how the non-profit College Board, which handled 12 million tests last year while taking in $485 million in revenue, performed in the crisis.

The gold standard for corporate crisis management dates back more than 20 years to Johnson & Johnson's prompt and full disclosures while dealing with the poisoning of bottles of Tylenol. At the opposite pole lies Guidant Corp., which belatedly reported problems last year with two of its implantable pacemakers. The College Board's response falls somewhere in between. Its shortcomings include:

• Dribbling out the bad news. The College Board issued three disclosures in two weeks, each conceding a larger problem. What started out as a situation involving 400 students with a maximum error of 400 points became one involving 4,441 students with a maximum error of 450 points. In every revelation, minimizing the problem appeared to be the board officials' priority.

•Inadequate safeguards. The College Board should have discovered the problem itself. Instead, student complaints exposed it. Given the stakes - college acceptances and financial aid can ride on the scores - the College Board should have made sure its scoring subcontractor, Pearson Educational Measurement based in Iowa, knew how to handle moist test forms.

The College Board promises increased scrutiny for future exams, including the next one on May 6. That's a hopeful sign, but not enough to restore the credibility of the College Board or the rest of the testing industry.

Just weeks before the SAT problems surfaced, an education think tank in Washington, D.C., Education Sector, released a little noticed report about a testing industry under stress. The surge in exams has strained the handful of companies that make up the industry, raising the risk of mistakes, the authors presciently predicted.

The recommendations in that report, which range from a national testing oversight board to larger federal investments in testing technology, warrant a fresh look.

Taking the SATs is stressful enough without students having to pray for a sunny day.

Ralph said...

That last thing is a document imaging problem...