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Darling-Hammond's Views Will Be Part of Testing Debate

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Education Sector's Tom Toch gives the rundown on Linda Darling-Hammond's latest thoughts about the role of assessments in school reform efforts. He deconstructs the Stanford University professor's article in Phi Delta Kappan examining other countries' performance-based tests, and he wonders how Darling-Hammond might use these ideas if she retains influence over the Obama administration's policies. (Only the abstract is free online.) Toch concludes:

So, if Barack Obama gives Linda Darling-Hammond a major role in his administration, we're going to have a big policy debate over testing in American education and whether we should move beyond NCLB accountability to something potentially very different. Such a debate wouldn't be a bad thing.

True, and that's why Darling-Hammond's supporters and opponents are fighting so hard over who should be the next secretary of education and his or her advisers. Those are the people who will have to set the policies on what types of assessments the federal government pays for, requires states to use, and ultimately becomes the tools for judging schools' success.

Darling-Hammond's article updates her past statements on testing issues. Here's one snippet:

Finland has no external standardized tests to rank students or schools. Finnish education authorities periodically evaluate school-level samples of student performance, generally at the end of the 2nd and 9th grades, to inform curriculum decisions and school investments.

The Finnish model goes against many of the core tenets of NCLB: annual testing and individual student results. Following that model would make it impossible to measure whether schools and districts are closing the achievement gap. President Bush and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings have been the most prominent proponents of these features. But many Democrats believe in them, too, including Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. And, don't forget that President-elect Barack Obama has said that he endorses NCLB's attempt to close the achievement gap.

Toch's right. We're in for a big debate over accountability.

P.S. Maybe Ed Sector's Kevin Carey will take a break from his Finnish "vacation" to weigh in on whether the Finland's accountability model could work in the U.S.

4 Comments

Perhaps Kevin, while on his Finland "vacation" can also look at why Finland has the 2nd lowest rate of child poverty (2.4%) among OECD nations nestled between Denmark #1 and Norway #3. US ranks 25th at 21.9% with only Mexico ranking lower. On measurements of Six Dimensions of Child Well-Being US ranks 21st, Finland ranks 4th. The four highest ranking nations are Scandinavian. We have much more to learn from these countries than assessment.

When we, as a nation, get as serious about the well-being of our children as these countries are then closing achievement gap will be considerably less challenging. If Linda Darling Hammond represents one side of the debate and the "disruptive reformers" as they are now termed are the other, then Darling-Hammond is my choice hands down.

The data is from Innocenti Report Cards issued in 2005 and 2007.

Perhaps Kevin, while on his Finland "vacation" can also look at why Finland has the 2nd lowest rate of child poverty (2.4%) among OECD nations nestled between Denmark #1 and Norway #3. US ranks 25th at 21.9% with only Mexico ranking lower. On measurements of Six Dimensions of Child Well-Being US ranks 21st, Finland ranks 4th. The four highest ranking nations are Scandinavian. We have much more to learn from these countries than assessment.

When we, as a nation, get as serious about the well-being of our children as these countries are then closing achievement gap will be considerably less challenging. If Linda Darling Hammond represents one side of the debate and the "disruptive reformers" as they are now termed are the other, then Darling-Hammond is my choice hands down.

The data is from Innocenti Report Cards issued in 2005 and 2007.

Amen to Bob for pointing out the overlooked obvious. The Finnish operate in an overall system that says children matter, that reinforces a social responsibility for all citizens. In short, someone who embraced what is really working for education in Finland couldn't get elected president of the United States.

But, I do have a problem with Darling-Hammond suggesting that the Finns don't test. They test differently. They sample the student population. Local districts have the option of oversampling in order to have locally relevant data. But they also have a big exit exam that students have to pass in order to get into various upper level options. Students who do not score high enough to get into the upper-secondary program of their choice have the option of an additional year of schooling in which to improve the score. Scores at the end of high school figure heavily into college program admission (only the top 10% get into teaching programs). As post-secondary education is free, there would be fairly few work-arounds for well-endowed poor performers (we have had a few classic examples in American gov't).

Personally I am very envious of the Finns--but I would be very careful of assuming that we can lift pieces of their system in the absence of the over-riding social concerns that guide all of their policy.

I love you Margo.

You've homed in on what no major reporter has so far. Kudos

What's interesting is that Darling-Hammond knows all this but leaves it all out when she makes public comments.

Lemme know if you want to guest blog.

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