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Connecticut's Recipe for the NCLB

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In an Education Week Commentary, Betty J. Sternberg, Connecticut's commissioner of education, argues that the No Child Left Behind Law precludes her state from using "formative" tests, imposing instead annual standardized testing, which she says, is much less useful to the classroom teacher.

"Do we want a national policy that causes states to lower their educational standards in homage to some false 'principle': annual, standardized testing?," Sternberg asks.

What do you think? What's your take on Sternberg's argument?

16 Comments

As leader of The Arts in a suburban NY school district, I am troubled by the unfunded mandates of NCLB, and its impact on the budgets of our already overburdened school systems. The cost of testing and scoring alone is astonishing, and will only continue to rise. Teachers are spending more time scoring tests than actually teaching, and more and more teaching time is spent teaching to the tests.
Aside from this burdensome unfunded mandate (the federal government is not paying the lion's share of the testing costs - it falls on local taxpayers), the lost time to creative endeavors such as art and music is short-sighted. To remain competitive in a global marketplace, we need to develop a workforce of creative problem solvers, adept at thinking "outside the box". Instrucional time spent on The Arts, Physical Education, Technology, Home and Career skills and Business Education is being squeezed out of the school day at the expense of "drill and kill" for high stakes testing.
It is time to rethink the goals of NCLB along with its inherent expense and deliterious impact on a new generation of creative, healthy, and productive citizens.

As a teacher in Connecticut I applaud Sternberg's argument. I have taught in 3 states across the country (California, Utah and now Connecticut) and the differences in Connecticut are amazing. Not looking only at test scores, but the quality of education I think we are doing well here in the state. I have personally seen that we have lower class sizes (compared to the other states I've taught in), a higher percentage of "highly qualified teachers" with graduate level degrees, and a rigorous state standard based curriculum.

Why do we need to continue to test students on standardized testing that measures a fraction of the knowledge students need to succeed in the world post high school? Formative examination would be of much better use to me as an educator to customize my lesson delivery and materials to content students are struggling with. I only hope the federal government will continue to fund educational reform as we have initiated in Connecticut and listen to our elected officials!

This comment is to let you know that standardize tests are killing America Education. What these tests show is all student must think, learn and perform at the same level. Uniqueness has been taken away. Students’ potential is limited to a company mind design set. These tests are biased and unfair to all students who do not share the same cultural and linguistic background of the “traditional American” student. But guess what, if we continue with this approach by 2040, 80% of the professional workforce will be imported from other countries, and/or job market will be relocated in foreign countries.
This administration is trying to set the same failing model that the President created in Texas. Universities in Texas have to look for students from others countries and states to fill their classes because the school system is not producing the qualified student to be ready to face college standards, and/or dropout is too high that the number of students who graduate are not enough in number to meet the college level needs.
The ones who are benefiting from standardized tests are the companies that set the American educational standard.
Thanks God that the world is not round, it is flat!!!

I taught secondary English in Texas for ten years before going back to school to work on a doctorate. I loved working with students and helping them build connections between literature, social studies, and the world around them. For many years, I could not wait to get to school and begin my daily dialogue with young people and watch/nurture their growth. Why did I leave the classroom? The testing was simply getting out of hand. Rather than serving as a measuring tool to inform schools which students were struggling the tests quickly became the curriculum--and a bludgeong tool for students who did not perform well in a testing situation. A good friend of mine (also a teacher) assessed the situation by means of a couple of questions. She said, "How many times do we have to weigh the cow? We never have time to feed the cow, so how can we expect the cow to grow?"

For the past several months, I have followed Sternberg's conversation with the federal government. I am proud to have such a knowledgeable and thoughtful colleague out there who is unafraid to speak out on behalf of the students in her care. When I read about the federal government's recommendation that Connecticut implement multiple choice tests at the grade levels not currently tested in her state to save on costs (the testing already in place in Connecticut allows for students to explain their work and respond in writing by means of short essay and is quite expensive to implement) I had to laugh. We have plenty of multiple choice tests in Texas--home of the (egads) "Texas Miracle"--yet our students are not making noteworthy progress. What's missing is CONTEXT, and that is exactly what Sternberg is fighting for in her state. My hope is that educators like Sternberg will keep up the good fight, and continue to make public the flaws in No Child Left Behind. For without that, the Act becomes nothing more than a piece of political rhetoric, filled with lofty ideas but a sub-standard means of measuring student progress.

If our federal government listened to experts in the field who are crying out for authentic assessments, perhaps schools could focus on the higher aspiration of public education: to educate students capable of flourishing in a democratic society. As things stand, students will be fortunate if they can problematize anything more than which of five possible choices is the most correct. Life does not hand you such a neatly delineated bubble sheet...

I, too, admire Betty Sternberg and all of the writers.
We're all looking for the commonsense in NCLB, which is true of everyone, all over the country.
We need to look at the confusing goals of NCLB -- to make the high schools and universities an "academic elite...survival of the academic (math-and-sciene now) fittest.." (Everybody and his brother has wanted to "fix" American education for the past 100 years, including leading Democrats. Would they have forced such a draconian dictatorship? AND to make the public schools look so BAD that privatization will seem to be the only option.
In Texas, the school funding has been deemed insufficient, and the Conference of State Legislatures has deemed the NCLB goals "unachievable." Yet nothing changes.
I'm challenging the Texas State Board of Education's test "standards," which are allowing largely the naturally math-abd-science talented (gifts from God, inherited, or quirks of the brain") to graduate from high school and to enter college, with the otherwise-gifted dropping out, being held back in 8th grade for 3 years, the nongraduates -- all expected to get their GED, which, "following K-12 standards," is also unpassable for many.
I'm requesting the board's documentation for the standards, and, of course, I have my own documentation that the standards are too high to be fair to all students. They -- and the GED -- "refuse" to have levels, of course.
In the Rio Grande Valley, Magnet schools -- a special ed school and a Teacher Academy -- were both changed into math-related schools to avoid ever being "low-performing," and taken over They get grants, business loves them. They won't be taking Special Ed kids, of course. Bill Gates can't wait to help such schools. The colleges are largely made up of math-talented students. I worry about the shortage of teachers, nurses, etc.
I came to the Valley from Wisconsin after my husband died because we had discovered the terrible neglect of adult education and literacy. This has morphed into the dropouts, pushouts of NCLB, too many ever to make up to!
My best info: Dr. Donald Orlich's article, "Education Reform and Limits to Student Achievement," Feb., 2000, Phi Delta Kappan education journal, and Kathy Emery's and Susan Ohanian's "Why is Corporate America Bashing our Public Schools?" as well as EdWeek and Susan Ohanian's websites.
There's hardly a day that I don't find little clues in newspapers and magazines, items for letters to the Editor and for documentation.
I'm glad to find this "chat" possibility with such smart people.

I agree whole-heartedly with Ms. Sternberg. One might say, "You can do the formative evaluation in addition to the standardized, norm-referenced testing but in my experience, the minute you use a test where students, classrooms, teachers, schools, school districts can be compared THE TEST IS WHAT WILL BE TAUGHT

I agree whole-heartedly with Ms. Sternberg. One might say, "You can do the formative evaluation in addition to the standardized, norm-referenced testing but in my experience, the minute you use a test where students, classrooms, teachers, schools, school districts can be compared THE TEST IS WHAT WILL BE TAUGHT AND IT WILL ECLIPSE ALL DEVELOPMENTAL, INDIVIDUALIZED TEACHING AND FORMATIVE (EVALUATING EACH CHILD'S PROGRESS EVERY DAY AND LETTING THAT INFORMATION GUIDE TEACHING. Imagine the pressure in a district where realtors carry around copies of each school's scores. (Sadly this is not imagination--it is true.)
It would seem that NCLB was created by some ultra conservative non-educators. Congress was pressured and tricked into passing this law, believing there would be money for teacher training, etc. However there has been vewry little money for states. Money would create opportunities for teachers to learn new techniques that would actually work for their children. Test scores do not motivate; they punish. And think about this: if we are using a norm-referenced test where 50% of the scores must be above the mean and 50% must be below the mean by definition as based on a normal distribution. This means that no matter what we do, at least 50% of the students will be technically "left behind." NCLB has thrust us back into the educational climate of the 1960s and early 1970s before we had substantial research and information on how children think and learn and how they might best be taught. From the mid-1970s through the 1990s there were many innovative programs paid for by the ESEA Title IV funding. That money has been cut off and the focus of education has changed from teaching the way students learn to making children memorize to get higher test scores. Sanctions by the Dept. of Education have been ludicrous, for example schools that rank highly by national education experts have been put on probation because their special ed. and learning challenged students haven't risen enough.

It's time for educators to stand up for what is right and good for students instead of submitting to national standards! This is against the principles of state control in U.S.Constitution!

It's like two steps forward, three steps back! In the state of Texas, many of the school districts are in the classroom from August 15 till May 26. In Houston ISD six weeks are used for the purpose of testing. There was more teaching time 30 years ago. This is the district of DOE Supt Paige. Do the math, we lose more than 15% of our teaching time every year.

I support Betty Sternberg because my children attended school in Connecticut until we moved to Florida in 2001. The biggest change for my children was the standardized testing. I have noticed in the past 4 years that Florida's FCAT stresses out the children and punishes them if they do not pass, even if they are learning disabled. My daughter who is 14 stated it best, "Mom, how come in Connecticut we took our test at the beginning of the year and it was over with and here it is in the middle of the year? It feel like all we are taught is how to take the test. We don't seem to learn anything else."
What is the saying? "Out of the mouth of babes."
NCLB needs to be readdress and changed. Connecticut's testing system does not stress out children and allows teachers to actually teach something besides a standardized test.

NCLB was borne from the massive failure of ESEA and other programs to educate the poor and largely minority children in the public schools. The failure was duly noted by a number of courts which intervened on behalf on these minorities, and in the face of the failure of the progressive strategies advocated by liberal educators.

In Maine, liberal educators implemented LEARNING RESULTS, using a learning standards matrix; and then redesigned the Maine Educational Assessment to 'measure' L.R. attainment.

Bottom line: Last year, 90% of Maine's 11th grade Native Americas failed to achieve proficiency on the MEA's; only 12% and 13% of the 11th grade Title One Eligible students were proficient in MATH and SCIENCE; and in a number of high schools, over half of the 11th graders failed to achieve proficiency on the MEAs.

Your 'way' has dramatically failed poor minorities; made a diploma based on 'seat time' and social promotion worthless, and dramatically increased the drop out rate in a cohort between 9th and 12th grade.

Until you come to grips with the magnitude of your failure and come up with working models that incorporate your theories and succeed with NCLB's target populations; the best thing you can do is to stop whining and don't take the Federal money.

As the Chair of the Curriculum Committee in an urban district in Connecticut, I laud the efforts by Commissioner Sternberg. There really are two Connecticuts: one affluent with adequate resources for public education, the other poor (62% qualify for free/reduced lunch) with limited resources for public education. While a few of the wealthy towns in Connecticut (and nationwide) can afford to drop out of Title I funding, our poor, urban districts rely on the funding.

Our Commissioner and our Attorney General are correct: we should decide what's on our tests.

I would go one step further and make the steps value added: until we assess our children based on a year of growth, all assessments used for funding, for real estate values, or for NCLB results will be false indicators of learning.

Why does the federal government feel they have to regulate EVERYTHING? Standardized test results (numbers) tell us little about the whole child. Why not let the experts teaching our children measure their aptitude in the ways they see fit? Children are names not numbers. I am CT educated myself and I applaud Commissioner Sternberg and the fantastic teachers of CT for standing up for us all where NCLB is concerned.

I, too, am a Connecticut resident,and a preschool teacher. I have followed Commissioner Sternberg's actions closely. She has not offered a better solution for improving the education of minority students, non-English speaking students, and students with special needs. Is everyone in CT willing to doom those students to a poor education because the affluent white children are doing so well? No one in our state's government has explained why 20 years of "improvements" in our state's standards, curriculum, and teacher education has left so many children struggling in school. If the system hasn't improved by now, it's time to stop trying the same thing. NCLB is meant to force school districts to change the way they do things- because the way they do things is failing our state's children.

Of course Betty J. Sternberg and colleagues are correct. Teaching to the tests has decimated thinking curriculum in CA, especially in low-income areas. I opt my kids out of testing. Wish more parents would.

I concur with the spirit of Ms. Garow's post. We can keep complaining about NCLB and standardized testing, but that does not address the fact that we are still not addressing the needs of at-risk students. Testing, as a measure of student achievement and teaching effectiveness, is not going to go away. We need to stop fighting it and help find ways to make it work better.

Frankly, I believe we will continue to fail to reach these students until we address the political, economic, and pedagogical obstacles to drawing a standard national curriculum. This would benefit students whose families are continually uprooted, usually by economic necessity, and provide a baseline for further refinement and testing. NCLB chatter, pro and con, is no more than a distraction from real reform.

I have been an educator and administrator and activist in public education for over 20 years. It still startles me that we continue to think that administering a standardized test will improve education. No Child Left Behind regulations as interpreted by most districts leave many children behind. Emphasis on testing does nothing to improve educational outcomes because the assessment tools are rearly linked to learning. All humans learn at different rates, learn different things, start at different points. Yes we do want to wind up literate and articultate and well rounded and able to compute and apply knowledge. . .can we also wind up cocmpetent singers and dancers and artists?

I recently had a conversation with my 6 year old great niece. She was required to attend summer school because she missed a couple of words on a locally developed assessment tool whose results are used to determine whether students should be promoted. (Her Stanford scores were consederably above average.) I asked her about school..."It's booooring" she said. "What would make it interesting?" I asked. . . ."I could bring my accordian to school. . .or I could sing my songs. . .maybe we could have some dancing. . .it's hard to be sitting down. . .maybe we could have teachers who can sing. . . my teacher can't. . .she's like you. .. you sing terrible." She is correct. I do sing horribly. She has a beautiful voice. She will know how to read, write and compute better than most Americans. She will be more well rounded, well traveled and more understandidng of others no matter what test results indicate. Her final words to me on the subject of school were that she doesn't like tests, or teachers, or school. She does like learning new stuff and writing and reading but not in school.

A now retired superintendent in Texas once told me tnat if educators failed to connect with students, students who wanted to learn and create and invent would find ways to do so away from school. That is already happening. Students who pass our required tests and those who fail them leave school in one way or another at about the same rates.

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  • Phyllis Hallam, mother of two: Of course Betty J. Sternberg and colleagues are correct. Teaching read more
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