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'Proficiency for All' Is an Oxymoron


While the NCLB requirement that all students be proficient by 2014 is an admirable goal, the federal definition of proficiency is inconceivable given the achievement variations between socioeconomic groups, the inexact comparison of achievement across national borders, and conflicting levels of proficiency among the states, authors Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder write in this Education Week Commentary.

Proposals such as crediting gains, extending deadlines, or giving English-language learners more time won't fix the problem, they say. On the other hand, factoring human variability into accountability might be a good start when it is time to return to the drawing board.

What do you think? Is "proficiency for all" impossible? What should the federal mandate require?


At the very least, oxymoronic NAEP standards should be able to withstand objective quantitative assessment, as does other quantitative research.

What level is proficiency set at? Yes, all students can achieve a certain level of proficiency, but because students all have different levels of capability we need to have different levels of proficiency. Some students may be able to do calculus, but some may only be able to do consumer math. We need to have each student reach the level they are capable of. That's why we are teachers.

My long held belief has been that if some concept is not "learned" it has not been "taught". My past three years as an educator have been in the classroom, not as as administrator. Yes all children can and do learn, everyday. What they learn is not necessarily taught my teachers. They learn from everything and everyone around them. They learn at different rates and clearly show individaual talents and abilities. They come to the high school with different levels of preparation. Several students have arrived at our high school days before the administration of our state exams. I am witness to the fact that some students pass the math exam when their English speaking ability is almost non existant.
Those with the best preparation pass the English languge arts exam within two attempts. Many students who have been hear all of their lives do not achieve proficiency, EVER! Surely we as educator are capable enough to examin what the data says about our teaching...How we teach, when we teach what, where we teach it? Surely we can speak with our students and ask them for specific input. What do they already know? Are they prepared to learn this concept at this time...or must they work eight hours after school to support a family?

Many of our students could pass the tests for proficiency the day they walk into our schools. Could we learn to use pre-test data to design more individualized instruction. I think we can. I know we can. It would make us more effective if not proficient teachers.

While I hear Rothstein's criticism, I think different standards is a dangerous slippery slope for an education system that is already locked into racial and class patterns of achievement. We need one simple standard of proficiency that reflects what is needed in the American economic market for what our forefathers characterized as a 'good life.' The real variability needed is in instructional supports to meet the standard. If we know that some students enter our public schools at a disadvantage then our government funded inputs should remediate the gaps. Our history shows that different standards lead to different expectations that follow the status quo and stifle real potential. We have to move the conversation away from the numbers game of assessments into the more substantial conversation of instructional and systemic supports for students who we know reallly need it.

First, until we place some accountability on the student to achieve at a "proficient level" on these tests, we are kidding ourselves about the "ALL". Regardless of ELL or disadvantaged students. It is an "attitude" issue. No consequence, why put forth the effort. Unlike the SAT which is linked to admission to a college the student desires to attend or the CAHSEE "California High School Exit Exam" which they must pass to get a high school diploma.

Second, for many years the medical field has utilized the statistical concept called "risk adjusting". There are ways to take the differences in our student populations, whether it is socioeconomic, gender, ethnicity, ELL, etc and factor into the score. Physicians are judged on quality of care given, but what if a doctor has an abundance of older, diabetic, asthmatic patients.....the scores are "risk adjusted" to equalize. There is no perfect system, but it is one utilized across many organizations. Education is not the only place in the world with "differences".

We can define “proficiency” as anything from teaching every child enough to be able to live independently in out society, to understanding the nuances of Shakespeare and quadratic equations. Defining proficiency is not the real issue. The real issue has been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, having federal and state governments properly, responsibly fund public education to make the concept of NCLB even a remote possibility. If governments were even serious about this, the first piece of legislation they would pass would make it illegal for any governmental body to mandate any educational program without providing full funding. The next piece of legislation would provide for predictable, annual, meaningful federal and state funding to every public school district. These are our tax dollars…and until taxpayers, educators, educational lobbying groups and community leaders uncompromisingly demand our tax dollars be spent to properly provide for the public education system we keep talking about, it will remain just so much talk. Whatever the worth of educational engines like NCLB, they are relatively worthless if local school districts are increasingly unable to afford the fuel.

Two things:1: Adequate funding for these programs,and, 2:Making the student, in part, responsible for his own academic learning.

Thank you, Mr Rackow. Mouth is worthless without money, particularly when the mouth spouts simplistic irrelevances ("to know how kids are doing, you have to measure!"). We might also wonder if the mandate to measure doesn't in itself take our attention away from a quality of the relation between teachers and students -- a quality without which not even high-achievers are ever going to be fully alive in school. Martin Buber called this quality "each being really there for the other." Notice how hard it is to take that seriously. (Sounds touchy-feely, doesn't it?) It's as if it couldn't be a factor in achievement, because how would you measure or control it? You couldn't use "behavior modification" to bring it about, could you? Is any such thing on anyone's radar, teachers, let alone administrators?

Why are we surprises by the findings? The plan was conceived by a conservative majority that has a private school mentality. Just how many of the authors had any experience in any public schools either urban, suburban or rural? Like most mandated programs, there is never enough $$$$ to fully implement the programs and seed money only goes so far.

Of course the commentary is right. The proficiency goals of the NCLB are not too difficult or too easy, they are ridiculous, like rowing to Mars. Either the authors of NCLB were ignorant about the realities of human performance or they had other motives than improving public education. I doubt that they were ignorant.

I agree with Mr. Marino. Students are individuals with different potentials. All students cannot reach the same level of proficiency in all things, no matter how much it is taught, Ms. Bauman. For instance, I could not become proficient in physics, but I can in language arts. I also agree with Mr. McHenry that the current standards and testing movement has taken quite a bit of what is really important in teaching and learning,like personal connections, out of focus. As someone who has taught before this movement, I also see some value in the vision that standards provide and the accountability from testing.
As with everything we must look for a balance, using data to inform instruction, but not punish schools, having a growth model instead of a one size fits all approach, and valuing the qualitative aspects of education as much as the quantitative.

When we speak of proficiency we have to understand that there is no bar upon which to gauge proficiency. We in the US do not have a national curriculum or a national school system. Schools from state to state and city to town each teach different content, use different materials and have different assessment. Teacher preparation also varies from state to state and college to college. How can we expect to get to a destination if we do not know where we are going? Although I am not advocating for a cookie cutter educational system I think we need some standardization of the core subjects (math, language arts literacy, science and social studies). We also need to provide creative ways to present technology, art, and music so we have well rounded children who will be able to access a varied workforce. We do have to assess to assure that children are getting the education they need, but the assessment must be real and standardized to meet consistent standards.

Whether we like it or not all children will graduate and have to compete for jobs. If they received special education in school or not they will still have to compete. With our world getting ever smaller we have to prepare all American children to take their place in that world. As an educator and parent for over 30 years I believe that all children can succeed if they are taught responsibility for their actions, given good teaching, have support at home and are provided with an interesting and challenging curriculum.

The word "all" is the biggest part of the problem. 100% is a difficult level to reach in all manner of goals.

The bell curve is a reality. Some children learn faster than others. Some children have the capacity to retain more of what they learn than others. Many student lack the motivation to even put forth the effort necessary to realize the potential they have. We need to provide opportunities for all children to reach their full potential and accept the reality that some children will not take full advantage of those opportunties.

Several years before the rhetoric was put into legisltative form, my principal had a sign on her door that read "As we seek pathways to excellence, we shall leave no child behind." That may be true as long as we are only "seeking" pathways to excellence. The sad reality is that if you head down the path to true excellence, you are going to leave some children behind, some teachers behind, and more than a few administrators behind.

There is plenty of room for improvement in our system of public education. (I wrote a book about it - check it out at www.gwapple.com.) We should work hard to make our schools better and not waste time mouthing meaningless slogans and putting them into law.

I agree. If NCLB uses research-based information,it goes against logic. We should make education a parent priority and find ways to require parental participation in the process of learning. Because of the economy parents are unavailable to participate in the classroom. Business must step up and allow parents time in school on a regular basis.This will help our language learners and low socio-economic. Parenting is a large part of education.

Only in Lake Woebegon are all the children above average.

We've been told over the years that, for instance, the intelligence community is only human and cannot be right 100% of the time. Hospitals cannot cure 100% of their patients, 100% of all marriages cannot be successful, and politicians cannot keep 100% of their silly promises.

I am amazed that this late in the game, there are still people for whom the insights in this article are new or surprising.

Just a few responses:

I agree, but how can we get NEA to move out of the way of applying consequences?

In fact NCLB requires and grants a much larger role to parents than ever before. Not only the well publicized guarantees of parental choice, but also communication of school progress to parents and a requirement that parents be allowed input into school improvement plans. I haven't seen much action on this one, though.

Nice zinger, but proficient is not above average--or even average. Proficient means setting a standard minimum level of learning that every child is guaranteed. It doesn't mean eliminating the bell curve. It may mean narrowing the curve, or moving it upwards, or both, but it does mean that we get very real about getting education to everyone.

This is a country that was able to wipe out polio, completely, even among the poor and ignorant and people who don't care or believe in modern medicine. That's 100%. TB came very, very close. Isn't there some level of reading, writing and ciphering that we can guarantee?

Sorry--when I posted my responses above the technology eliminated the quotations that I was responding to. They were:

1. to Dina Kraemer on requiring proficiency without consequences
2. to Debbbi Cobbin on parental involvement
3. to P Greene on Lake Wobegone syndrome

Perhaps proficiency would be a more realistic goal if we didn't insist on putting artificial time and grade level limits on it. Why not just set the standards, and work with each child until s/he reaches them, however long that may be.

NCLB was once described by an administrator in my district as "the six-year path to privitization." My take? Conservatives couldn't go through the front door to get vouchers to pay for for private and religious schools with public funds, so they decided to build a back door by holding public schools--yes, ONLY public schools--to an unattainable standard--thus discrediting the public school system when 100% of its students are unable to achieve "proficiency."

I'm a special education teacher. I've had students make more than a year's progress in a year according to IRIs, CBAs, and individually administered achievement tests, yet still fall short of the "proficient" rating. Humiliating? Degrading? You bet--for the students and for their teachers.

Ours is one of the top-performing school districts in our state, with more than 90% of students scoring at or above proficient. A large percentage of those who fall below that level have recognized special needs. Bushels of either carrots or sticks will be unable to entice or prod every one of these students into meeting the state standard as it is now defined. By 2014, then, it is the students in our special education classes who will be responsible for the failure of the whole district. What an unfair burden to put on anyone's shoulders.

The authors make a strong case for realistic goals that appropriately challenge each student. Not everyone can be at or above the 50th percentile on a standardized test, but everyone can--and should-- improve their performance over time. Let's make sure we recognize rather than punish them (and their teachers) along the way.

Did anyone ever hear of "the bell curve"?

"Proficiency for All" is possible, but "proficiency" needs a better definition. How about proficiency at the actual level of abilities of individual students? If a child is achieving success below where their numeric grade level is, but are proficient at the level where they function, shouldn't that still be proficiency??

I believe that the NCLB Act has good intentions. However, many students who could be advancing in their learning are being forced to sit and wait for the rest of the class to catch up before the teachers feel like the WHOLE class is ready for a new objective. Studentsws are ending up being exposed to less and less new information and ideas because of this act. What ever happened to summer school, or actually failing a grade or two because the student would not perform his or her work at the adequate level? Schools should not be punished for this. Maybe if a few more lazy students were forced to repeat a grade, they might begin to take learning more seriously.

Are you listening, Mr. Bush? Read the commentary on your "School Reform" meausre. Then, you may want to go back and read the law as well. There is nothing wrong with high standards. We should, and DO expect our students to achieve. The setting of particular standrds as proficient is not new. We all want a proficient doctor or electrician. When someone comes to fix the dryer or dishwasher, it is comforting to know that person is proficient at such repair. Levels of proficiency are different for each person. For some, mastering consumer math is proficient, others, though not many, need calculus. Statistics are useful in some fields, but useless in many others.
Reading and writing are important. These are useful skills and they pretty much define literacy. An informed citizenry should be able to read and express itself. It was once noted that most newspapers and magazines in the US are writtem at a third grade reading level. I do not know if this is true, but I have found in personal, non-scientific research, that most fourth graders are capable of reading and understanding most print media. On the other hand, I know university professors that have difficulty deciphering the directions for setting the clock on their VCR and others that are well read, but cannot follow a simple recipe in "The Betty Crocker Cookbook".
Proficient is really dependent on one's profession, not some standard set by a state or federal agency.
No Child Left Behind is nothing more than a slogan. It is not even a real law. The Deparetment of Education threatens to withhold some of the already meager funding that it grants to states and schools for lack of compliance. In order to truely leave no child behind, the federal or local governments must needs set up a system of mandatory boarding schools where students are held until "proficiency" is reached. Perhaps there is room in our prison system for such schools.
Reformers should continue the struggle,the task of making education better and try to not give up in the confusion created by the nonsense of NCLB and other measures. It is not necessary to test for proficiency in general. Such a thing is silly and wastefull. The business of education is education.

As a PS to my comments, I do not advocate a sytem of inprisoning students until they reach proficiency. I made that statement as a criticism of so-called exit exams and mandated requirements. In both public and private education, we already have standards set for every grade level and progress is already measured, using a grading system that ranks student achievement from failure to excellence. In the middle is that ubiquitous average, the middle of the BELL CURVE, the spot where most students are ranked. There is adequate accountability in the system as it stands, or as it stood before 2000.
In the proficiency testing arena, one side is neglected, the student side. To be truely equitable, such testing should allow the students that test proficient in a particular grade to choose between reamining in that grade or even school at all, or moving on to a higher level of learning or a career. I know of one student that refused to take the high school achievement tests seriously for this very reason. This student's stand was that an exit exam was unfair, if success did not lead to an immediate diploma.

And education comes from personal interaction between people, no? Our culturally-given paradigm drives us to try to structure that interaction -- by everything from curriculum guides to the whole machinery of NCLB -- assuming that there is something wrong in the Structure that can be fixed.
A working curriculum is the result of effective schooling, not the cause. When you paint a three-board fence, it doesn’t do simply to fill the brush and slap it back and forth across the flat faces of the boards. The boards refuse hasty coverage. Some of them have been cut at the mill with a band saw, which leaves a regular pattern of vertical ridges across the grain, perpendicular to the length. A sweep of the brush will leave only the tops of these ridges painted, and a repeat sweep across the same area, while it may squeeze more paint out of the brush, causing runs and drips and wasting paint, produces no better coverage. You have to slow down, look carefully at the character of the surface you’re painting, adapt the brush technique to its particular rugosity.

Nor is even this enough. Others of the boards have been cut with a huge circular saw, whose blade leaves gently-arced ridges on the board’s face, even sometimes a crosshatch of arcs like a drooping fishnet. So if a repeated up-and-down daub, bristles end-on, poking at the surface, turned out to be the best way to get paint in between the vertical ridges, now these other boards respond better to an initial sweep following the crescents of these different ridges, then a twisting of the now partially loaded brush with each daub, akin to beating an egg with a whisk.

And the top board relates to your brush differently than the bottom and middle boards, since your arm is in a different position for each, your muscles differently engaged. Each board in each panel of the fence has its own face and its own body, to which the task requires your renewable individual relation. Abstract yourself from the task of knowing the boards, and you either make extra work for yourself or give up in disgust. If there’s a lot of fence to be painted, a painter thus abstracted will not approach the task with any relish. He may indeed feel that the whole curriculum of brush-painting is a bad deal, and go out and buy a spray-painter. That way he can think about something else than painting, and spend much less time doing it.

Can schools overcome social, cultural, and other variables that inhibit student learning? This is a huge question.

It seems that some schools are able to do this for some children. The 11/26/06 copy of the New York Times Sunday Magazine carried an interesting piece on this subject by Paul Tough: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26tough.html

But, it's not at all clear that schools can pull this off with all children. Moreover, it seems to me that the 100% proficiency requirement of the No Child left Behind Act is not feasible. Indeed, this central metric of NCLB seems likely to implode in the next few years unless it is changed: http://www.educationnews.org/Commentaries/Culture_Discipline_and_the_No_Child_Left_Behind_Act.htm


Kevin R. Kosar, Author
Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards (Lynne Rienner Publishers,

To Renee Moore - Bravo! And Angela Banke, I enthusiastically agree with the first half of your post, and begrudgingly agree with the second half. Although I don't like to admit to the concept of 'lazy students', they do exist. But if we do what Renee said - give each student what they need, be it time, support, or challenge, instead of enforcing a 'one size fits all' in spite of the FACT that it doesn't, perhaps learning can become a meaningful and (gasp) rewarding experience.

"....too complex to be reduced to simple sound bites and administered by the highly politicized federal Department of Education." Bingo! So, reverse it; ".. a system that can be communicated in simple sound bites and administered through highly partisan mandates." Politics, not education.

Here's another dose of reality - you will not solve the problems of American (especially inner-city) education until you address the problems of the communities in which the students live OR change the standard 19th. century paradigm of 180 days of six hours days of instruction.

Bruce Taylor
Arts for Anyone
Bethesda, MD

The authors have made the empirically correct case that many folks have been making both in private and (sometimes) in public since the NCLB legislation was passed and even earlier, i.e., since the "all children can learn" slogan mutated 15 or so years ago into the notion that all children can be high academic achievers (in all areas) or that all students can graduate from high school academically well prepared for college. (Several years ago, an education commission housed at a prestigious organization actually reached that last conclusion--without presenting any evidence, of course, for how it could be done.)

At bottom, the high-achievement-for-all position is an ideological not an empirical one. That reality raises a couple of questions. First, why is this ideological position seemingly so dominant in education policy circles? Second, what will it take to reduce the tendency for education policy in the academic achievement arena to be so ideological?

Regarding the first question, part of the reason is undoubtedly the reality that many, many disadvantaged and minority children have been routinely served badly by our schools (and other institutions) over the years. As someone who has been working the past quarter century to raise the academic achievement of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans--including increasing their representation among the nation's highest academic achievers, I have concluded that there is a related but deeper concern at work. Many folks seem to worry that, if we concede that not all individuals can be high achievers, it may be a short step to the conclusion that we cannot expect African Americans as a group to do as well academically as Whites. This is an all too understandable worry, given how much discussion there continues to be about that issue in many quarters in a context which Black-White achievement differences continue to be large and to get high visibility. For example, I have just finished reading a paper by a respected education researcher in which that individual felt it necessary to address the long-standing allegation that there are genetic differences between Blacks and Whites. And, a couple of days ago, the New York Times ran a major article on a new study that found large differences in law school GPAs between African Americans and Whites overall and among those who are junior associates at major law firms--and that the latter differences may be contributing to the high attrition rate of the Black associates and the low percentage of African Americans who are partners. (Although the article noted that many people are contesting the finding that the GPA difference is the driving factor in the different attrition and partnership percentages, there evidently is not any real debate that there is a large GPA gap.)

If this is the case, then a partial answer to the second question is that a lot of progress will need to be made to close the Black-White achievement gap before there can be a relaxation of the "everybody can be proficient" mantra in policy circles. It also suggests that progress means more than reducing the percentage of low SES African Americans who are low achievers; it also means getting much higher achievement among African American students from middle class and high SES families--as these segments continue to lag far behind their White counterparts at all levels of the education system. And, it means getting many more African American high achievers at the undergraduate and graduate levels, i.e., more top graduates in engineering, economics, medicine, law, and so forth.

At this juncture, there are few strategies from preschool through graduate school that have been empirically demonstrated to raise achievement among middle class and high SES African American students or to increase the percentage of high achieving Blacks from all SES levels. And, there continues to be remarkably little investment in the design, testing, and evaluation of strategies focused on these objectives. Tragically, if we don't begin to really move on the strategy side, we run the risk that a generation from now the situation will have changed very little and that we will still have few proven strategies in hand.

At the same time, there really are some promising avenues for action from preschool forward. It will take a lot of money and sustained effort to assess them fully, to design and test variants, and to implement them widely. Unfortunately, there is very little money available to pursue these avenues forcefully and rigorously.

Last summer, Professor Paul Hill of the University of Washington had a commentary piece in Ed Week suggesting that the Gates Foundation increase its investment in education R&D. In my Talk Back comments on his excellent piece, I suggested that Gates play the catalytic role in creating several new foundations that would specialize in funding the design, testing, and evaluation of education strategies in key areas--and that they consider having the first of these new entities focus on the middle class/high SES and high achievement issues for African Americans that I have discussed here. We clearly need such funding entities, whether Gates or some other foundations take the lead in getting them in place.

We, of course, should be making these efforts on behalf of African Americans simply because it is the right thing to do. But, it also is important for pragmatic reasons, probably including the fact that it would contribute to more rational government policy concerning student achievement in the years and decades ahead. Unaddressed issues tend to have many negative consequences. Well addressed ones tend to produce many benefits.

L. Scott Miller
Arizona State University

"Proficiency for all" is possible if we have low enough standards. Let's see, what is a goal that we should expect EVERY child to achieve? How about this: Every child will be able to breathe, with or without assistance.

My 1st grade class is 90% second language learners coming from low income families. If we judge proficency to be passing our district math and language arts tests which are reasonably aligned with the Ca state standards, then I believe almost all of my students could be capable of achieving proficiency in these areas. I say "could be," because many of my students come with very low language skills and limited vocabularies. If we had the resources of time, money, and personel we could meet the needs of these students, with qualified tutors, small groups instruction, and motivation for their families and we would see a huge improvement. My students are capabel of achieving proficiency if we go all out to find what they need in their education and make sure they get it.

The question of what institutions can do to overcome familial and cultural variables
that negatively affect learning is a nettlesome one. There's much research that suggests that home life profoundly affects cognitive development, to say nothing of the behaviors youths must possess in order to learn to high levels [e.g., see: http://www.educationnews.org/
_the_No_Child_Left_Behind_Act.htm]. Attempting to use public dollars to help all children receive a great education is a noble goal. Indubitably, some schools, like the KIPP academies, have done wonders. But, should society expect schools to get ALL children, no matter how disadvantageous their home lives, to reach proficiency? It would seem to be a leap of faith to answer "Yes" to that question. Yet, the No Child Left Behind act does require schools to strive to get 100% of children to the "proficient" level. It seems probable that this goal of "100% proficiency for all" will need to be reconsidered or that a "safe harbor" be created that exempts high achieving schools (e.g., 75% at proficiency? 85% at proficiency?) from the punishments for failure to make adequate yearly progress.

PS- Paul Tough had a good piece on schooling and children from suboptimal backgrounds recently. "What It Takes To Make a Student" ran in the 11/26/06 copy of the New York Time's Magazine and may be available online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26tough.html .

I suppose this proficiency applies to white students and not students of color, just as race of students in the primary, middle and secondary schools matters to compliment diversity requirements.

This country is reassessing its southern segregationist roots. Hatred continues to be legitimized through the federal funds disbursed to school districts who are finding ways to continue to fail students of color and keep the class largely white.

It is about time someone wrote an article like this. Well, they may have but this is the first I have seen. I agree with what everyone else is saying especially C. Miller (""Proficiency for All" is possible, but "proficiency" needs a better definition. How about proficiency at the actual level of abilities of individual students? If a child is achieving success below where their numeric grade level is, but are proficient at the level where they function, shouldn't that still be proficiency??) I have students who may only be proficient at the 3rd grade level for them and they may be in the 8th grade.

Every child learns differently, processes information differently. They go to school with baggage from home life. They may not think learning social studies will help them in life so why bother learning it. Personally, unless someone plans on going into a field of science or social studies I do not think they should be tested to see if they are proficient. Testing in the classroom is fine/necessary but not a state test. Reading and math is used everyday so testing in these areas are good.

Also, we need a system that is universal, across the board. Like someone said above. A student may be proficient in one state and district but not in another state and district.

I asked my students a few years ago what they would rather be doing than go to school: earning money was a big thing. I have had so many students over the years whose dad, uncle, friend of the family or grandfather teach them about carpentry, masonry, electricity work, automechanics, etc. this is what the public school system needs to do: get those who do not plan on going to college and get them into these areas earlier than high school. Separate the college bound from the noncollege bound. I have a big idea of how this would be but I will not type it here.

The government needs to wake up and smell the roses or coffee. They need a reality check. They should take all state tests in the U.S. and I bet they would not be proficient in every state. They need to do this before telling the states they need to have everyone proficient by 2014.

The development of all students to the same level
implies that all students are capable of reaching
that same level. I find that confusing given the existence of the bell curve and the relationship of iq to predicted school success. Growth measures are a fairer way to make achools accountable for producing learning gains. Setting the bar of proficiency as the ultimate goal for every child also demands little/no
growth for the gifted or any student who comes to class day one already able to earn a proficient score on the state test, thus leaving them behind.
For such students, NCLB imposes underachievement and deprives that child his/her promise. It is a
most unfortunate time when flawed federal legislation dictates so much of educational decision making.

Just as soon as neuroscience together with robotics designs a "one size fits all" microchip with encyclopedic knowledge to be inserted in human brain stems, then we will achieve proficiency for all.

Are you trying to develop students or build clones? I was just discussing this topic in depth the week. Learners are just as individualized as the person themselves. Standards set the bar, however, to expect to pull all districts in the nation into a single standard in a few years is bigger than NCLB.

The authors have a pretty good grasp on a few things. Unfotunately, the definitions of oxymoron and proficiency are not among them. In reading the first five contributions to this 'forum,' I can think of no more salient evidence that we should strive for proficiency than the ill-begotten grammatical contortions many 'educated' respondents have contributed.

"What level is proficiency set at?" Oh my God!
"withstand objective quantitative assessment, as does other quantitative research" WHAT?
"English speaking ability is almost non existant."

We have much more to worry about than this garbage-in, garbage-out article.

Proficiency for all? In Lake Wobegon maybe, where all children are above average...But this isn't suprising coming from an administration which views children as wigets, a product to be churned out using the same mold for everyone. Unfortunately, the ingredients going into the mold are not the same.

There have been poor immigrant groups of children in the past that excelled in the first generation; see northern Michigan in the 1920s and 1930s. A problem that deserves study is the defensiveness within sub-populations throughout our country. Not facing the differences creates a no-win situation for all children where merit can be undermined by defeating reactions of underperforming groups. Save our children with appropriate actions.

What should the federal mandate require?

1. Documentation that each student go out of the classroom at the end of each year demonstrating that they have a greater level of skill in their ability to READ, WRITE, COMPUTE and COMMUNICATE at a level greater than than when they arrived at the beginning of the school year. Comparing individual and group data accounts for what should be the unique situations where individual students have not been able to 'progress' because of extenuating circumstances. The endless talk about needing to establish 'rigorous' standards seems like just so much waste of time since it continues to keep us involved in meetings rather than in the task of instruction.

2. Accountability in terms of the application of funds. This relates to the people giving the funds and those taking the funds. Rarely is lack of money at the root of students not learning (lots of research evidence and lots of examples to support this position), yet the debate goes on...and on.

3. No retreat from requiring that assessment and public school report cards be a condition for funding. Those who have committed themselves to demonstrating the impact that they have on student learning as it is measured by an agreed upon assessment 'win' because they are visibly rewarded; their students 'win' because it is likely that their progress is a reflection of the confidence placed in them by their teachers (expectations in actions rather than in words);parents 'win' because they are happy when they see their children happy. Students who 'see' that they are 'progressing' are usually happy; the public 'wins' because they can 'see' the return on their investment. If we could stop trying to kill the messenger (test results), we might be able to engage in a "data driven" discussion to determine whether it is better FOR STUDENTS to be engaged in a national assessment of basic skills or leave that process in the hands of each state.

4. Leave the task of how to teach and what to use to the schools. Only demand that there be evidence of progress (the students had a greater level of skill when they left than when they began.) Make no retreat from this expectation.

5. Reducing the number of mandates by setting an example of reasonableness in terms of what educators should be responsible for delivering; i.e., the skills required to be able to READ, WRITE, COMPUTE, and COMMUNICATE (certain aspects of these basic skills are possible for all students, regardless of their physical or mental limitations.) A return to focus might enable us to spend our resources more wisely and with better results.

All raising standards accomplishes ultimately is a higher drop out rate among students. One might ask why the State or Regime which controls testing would actually in reality WANT a higher drop out rate. No organization could justify its existence with a 40% drop out rate. Imagine 40% of cinemagoers leaving a film or 40% of automobile buyers returning their cars. Why has there been such a high drop out rate among students and how will higher standards aim to reduce that rate? It doesn't. It encourages a higher drop out rate because it reality the Regime that controls the educational policies wants and needs and actually aims for a higher drop out rate. But why? What benefits are there in encouraging kids to drop out? Well, it would seem that a higher drop out rate provides cheap labor that is required to keep prices down. I am sure Hotel owners and automobile makers do not want a highly educated population. Who would clean bathrooms, and toilets and toil at the lower end jobs that make the economy move. Now, also, when cheap labor from Mexico is being challenged we have to produce our own cheap labor. This can only be acheived by compelling people to drop out by raising the standards. Raising standards is not meant to establish a highly educated accomplished society, but on the contrary, it is meant to produce a class of low payed menial workers who will wash cars, clean plates off your table and make beds in hotels. Every concept produces its opposite, creates its opposite. The Enlightenment created the un-enlightened who then had to be enlightened by force. Education creates the Un-educated. Literacy creates Illiteracy. Intelligence creates Stupidity. Standards create Sub-standards. Is it possible to think of school as a place students couild enjoy, have electives, have fun, love to learn, enjoy wisfdom and truth or is it all one big painful coercive system much like prison?

What makes "Proficiency for All" an oxymoron is the word "all." Of course, everyone knows that we still have children in our society who are unable to speak or understand, much less become proficient in academic subjects. Hopefully, one day we will have a cure for children with mild to severe brain damage, but that time has not yet come.

That said, I must agree with teacher La Haye, who believes everyone in her first-grade class could become proficient if they had enough help. I, too, am a first-grade teacher whose students are mainly poor and Spanish-speaking. Each one is fully capable, though, and could be at grade level IF they had the support they require. I am not able to do it alone. If anyone truly wants to help my students, this is what they would need: small group instruction for most of the day (this would necessitate another teacher to share my responsibilities. They need appropriate materials (right now they are using textbooks designed for native English-speakers) and a social worker (to help with home issues). We would also need to find a way to involve their families because all the research tells us how critical this is in any child's education. So, yes, almost all children are capable of achieving grade level proficiency, but it will not come without great commitment, effort and money from our whole society. Slogans are cheap but ineffective.

This question is an oxymoron,and typical of the shallow thinking that has gone in to the implementation of Federal Mandates.
Ask a Doctor or Lawyer the same question.
Ask an architect the same. It's insultin and not worthy of a response.
The basic problem is that teachers(and I do mean those who have a passion for knowledge that is
always evolving, and love for impartin their
awareness of life to those younger or perhaps older, are not the ones who are being given the
opportunity to impart this passion and love.
Instead it is those who have the correct networking, the correct finances, and the correct everything else. Take the politics out of the classroom, put proven Educators in position of
making standards,and we will have begun the first
step of raising the human awarenss to a truly
energetic, engaged and global society.

Let's not just allow this proficiency topic to get us all stuck in dialogue about just what this proficiency means. It is a ridiculous goal, not there to advance students. It is there to ultimately condemn schools and destroy the public system. Perhaps that was not the intend when written, but that is the result we are rapidly moving toward. Let's get our letters to the Congress to insure that they know we are out here paying attention, and we are not stupid enough to allow this NCLB Act to steal the heart of learning from students, and the ability of teachers to do their work. Send blogging letters to Congress. The public school is at risk and there is no time to just debate what this means.
Change can happen in 2007 on this. Standards are good,nobody can argue with that, but they are not healthy when they create a box that contains students, teachers and administrators, keeping them fearful and narrowing the learning in schools. Write your Congress. Let them know what you as educators know! This NCLB scheme was not written by educators.

Proficiency for all does not include incentives to support advanced and gifted students. We are seeing a decline in the number of gifted students who are scoring at the advanced levels. It is a myth that gifted students "will do OK anyway." They need the same level of appropriate educational support (challenging, rigorous curriculum at their level) as average students and low achieving students. However, NCLB is promoting only support, both functional and monetary, to low achieving students.

Our nation cannot continue to compete in the world economy if we do not support our gifted students and provide them with a challenging opportunity to learn.

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Recent Comments

  • Dr. Barbara L. Branch, Gifted Consultant and Retired Gifted Administrator: Proficiency for all does not include incentives to support advanced read more
  • Deanna Enos: Let's not just allow this proficiency topic to get us read more
  • Mary Healey, educator: This question is an oxymoron,and typical of the shallow thinking read more
  • Linda/Parent/Teacher: What makes "Proficiency for All" an oxymoron is the word read more
  • Dr. Ron Tuch: All raising standards accomplishes ultimately is a higher drop read more




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