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NCLB: Thoughts for Congress

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As Congress debates the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, Education Week and edweek.org have been home to a lively NCLB discussion as well.

In September, an opinion piece on ending 'accountability loopholes' by U.S. Rep. George Miller prompted a rebuttal from fellow House Education and Labor Committee member Howard P. "Buck" McKeon. More recently, in the paper's Nov. 7, 2007, issue, four scholars offered their thoughts for Congress, which ranged from reducing the federal government's role in education policy to rethinking the way teacher quality is defined and assessed.

Now we'd like to hear from you. What advice would you give Congress as it prepares to reauthorize the law?

18 Comments

This originally, well meaning initiative, has been completely and unprofessionally abused. One area of concern is reporting, or lack of, to get the funds so desperately needed. Which also leads to a great deal of risk in many areas. It is my impression that the schools that need the funds the most, are the ones in districts of lower income families, that also have a greater crime rate. The schools that need to be funded are the schools that need the funding. This should not be based on reporting. It should be based on income, economics and per capita and funding equivically. The schools cannot control the social behavior of their, schools environment. And an education needs to be provided to the ones who can, want to, learn. That also includes the children with disabilities. ADD, autism, disability in general, carries its own number of issues and attendance, etc. This was not implemented as an attention to the much needed funds. Teachers are increasingly pressured to do a job that is seamingly impossible and in turn putting that pressure on the children. More "F" grades are given out than ever before and this is leading to a desensitizing of that grade at a much younger age. Not only is it representative of the education in itself, but this entire thing has turned into a destruction of education, and unfortunately does not work. What would work is: reporting and grading as other Countries do, that we are trying to catch up to. They do not grade as appropriately as we do. Therefore, causing a great deal of stress on our system as a whole. We could also do a little research into a program that was implemented in the early I believe, 1979-80 era. Where education was career, goal based. Some based on testing that geared a child toward a certain curriculum. IE: testing higher in business, (or) give business type, life needed classes, at a certain level of education. Business is after all what generates the jobs, economic growth, the entire picture. We need to break it down to what are necessary, life sustaining, core curriculum, and give those types of classes. I believe a boot camp type health/ phys ed class would be appropriate in 7-8th grade. without weapons of course. But geared toward a level of respect and self -responsibility, discipline. The old school idealism should also be implemented to gain back the level of respect much needed today. In high school should be psychology, sociology, business simulations, and of course history, Math (or) offer psychology for example as a science course. Or ecology, etc. Bookeeping as a math class, or algebra, etc. The very basic education that was in place prior to trying to change the entire process that was in fact working. The only surpassing of Countries in education, is the grading and the way it is calculated. The United States, was and is, still number one. Implementing and changing a system that was working is hurting us desperately. And further challenging a people already, to hard pressed and over worked. If this worked in another country that is because people had more family time and the teacher didn't do all the work required, that is impossible to do. We have less books, less time, I have children of all age groups and cannot help in their subjects without a book to see what they are learning etc. This is a travesty. Again, a teacher at any level cannot change the social environment surrounding a school district and it is very unfair to suggest otherwise. And teachers have such attitudes toward the children, is the attitude these children are aquiring. Children learn by what they live and see. This is what they are living with on a daily basis. Then they are going home and living it in every hard pressed home in this Country today. There is no break, no laughter, no much needed life skills at all. Then they are stuck to a violent video game and just reitterating what they learned all day. Violence, amongst their peers, anger and frustration through a school system that cannot make the grade or money, etc. It is high time to go back to what the Country was and is. Our youth are at hand with a guineypig type agenda that was intitially meant for something that is entirely opposite of what took place. Basically stressing the schools are stressing our kids. Economically stressing families also stressing kids, and they are to young to be able to differentiate or handle the entire mess. This no child left behind act carries a level of responsiblity to the stress level and must be changed immediately. Thank you for this opportunity and taking my opinion. It is very much appreciated. Sincerely.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer this question. This is what I'd tell Congress as they consider renewing NCLB:

Start with a clear definition of education. Education is not synonymous with schooling. It is something that takes place throughout a person's day and throughout his life. It is both formal (school) and informal (home, neighborhood, peers). Therefore, to improve a person's education, it is necessary to consider many factors.

Study all these factors and try to use this knowledge to make a difference for the children who are "left behind." Yes, it is expensive to provide each child with health care, but it is not impossible. "No excuses" is a euphemism for "I don't care if the kid can't hear, get him up to grade level or else." It is expensive to get poor children and their families into better neighborhoods but we can do it if we want to.

Hire the best teachers possible for failing schools. The quality of the classroom teacher is the only school factor known to have a significant effect on achievement. The federal government can do much to lure great teachers to the neediest schools. All that is needed are competitive salaries and teacher empowerment. Once these teachers are hired, let them do their jobs without interference. Intelligent and highly educated people don't like being told to follow a script. I'm sorry to say that NCLB was a great impediment to me as I tried to teach my limited-English-speaking children. I was forced to use methods and materials that were not appropriate for them.

Place limited resources in schools where they are most needed. Because there is so little money to implement NCLB, it's best to focus the funds on the neediest schools.

Evaluate student progress with fair testing. The testing frenzy we have now is just a big waste of taxpayers' dollars and it is actually dumbing down the curriculum for low-achieving children. Teachers in poor schools are furiously drilling students on the test, while teachers in affluent schools continue with their science projects, discussions and music lessons. Yes, tests are important, but they must be able to test actual progress during an academic year. And they must be SECURE (i.e. new test each year; teachers should not know exact items or have access to the tests before they administer them-duh!)

Provide low-achieving children with the experiences that they lack. While it is true we can't take poor kids to China or Hawaii, we can provide them with virtual field trips. With today's technology every child or adult can visit any place in the world. Hire retired adults to read to children each day. Provide counselors for troubled chidren and social workers for neglected oens. Provide after-school and summer enrichment (NOT more drill). Continue to fund RIF (Reading Is Fundamental). It's one of the best programs for poor children; yet it's always being threatened with cuts.

Fund Reading Recovery for the poorest schools. This is a program that really works.

Help struggling families.

Provide PUBLIC school vouchers for disadvantaged children. No child should be forced to attend a poor school and yet we must preserve our public school system for everyone. A good compromise is to pay good schools to take a certain number of children from nearby failing schools (e.g. Palos Verdes CA would get extra federal money for taking nearby Compton students who wish to attend. Transportation would be provided.) I know citizens would fight this to the death, but if enough money comes with the student, cash-strapped suburban schools might cooperate.

Provide preschool for all poor children as well as infant classes for babies and their parents. We have known for a long time how critical the first few years of life are so let's do something about it.

In conclusion NCLB must focus on the education of children and not just their schooling. If we continue to ignore health, early childhood, language proficiency, parent education and poverty we might as well give up and save taxpayer dollars. Yes, school is very important but it's only part of a child's education.

NCLB has hurt many children and teachers in our nation's poorest schools. This law is a perfect example of the old adage: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Fix it or ditch it.

Priority (1) Mandate that national standards be developed with national assessments. These should not be produced by the federal DOE but by representatives of the 50 state DOE's using NAEP standards as their model.

Priority (2) Merit pay for teachers based primarily on NCLB test results. Incentives should also be given to teachers willing to teach in high priority schools.

Priority (3) Growth models where test results of individual students are compared from year to year as opposed to comparing cohorts (last year's 4th graders with this year's 4th graders) of students.

Priority (4) No multiple measures for assessments. Stick with NCLB tests.

Priority (5) Encourage pedagogical reform through national recognition and commendation of participating schools and districts. Kids learn at different rates. Whole group instruction, which dominates most US classrooms, is an embarrassing anachronism. It is also very inefficient. It leaves the top of the class bored and too many average and slower learners overwhelmed. Kids also show up every September with different levels of readiness. State and locals are doing nothing about this. Federal recognition could encourage a change in the right direction.

Priority (6) Remember, all kids can learn. It does take some kids longer while others learn from minimum exposure.

Priority (7) Fund the legislation appropriately with the majority of Title I funds going to the neediest schools and students.

NCLB was and is a very expensive and wasteful experiment. The idea of using research based methods has not been implemented. Standardized assessments, which have been found by research to be ineffective, have replaced teacher created tests that do and have done the job of assessing material taught. Vouchers to move children from low performing schools to higher performing schools serve only to move low performers to higher performing schools and do nothing for the children stuck in the low performing schools. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure otu that thebest way to deal with a failing school is to fix the school.
A large part of the education dollar has been going into charter schools, which is another way of saying publically funded, private schools. If private schools are doing well, the wisde course would be to use the private school methods in all schools.
All children in the United States of America should have adequate housing, adequate nutrition, and adequate health care. The Federal Government should concentrate on raising the standard of living of all Americans and leave the process of education to the individual states.
Merit pay and standardized testing lead to corruption of the very purposes of these tried and failed policies.
If reform is needed, a better use of reform dollars and time would be to eliminate the grade levels. In their place a three tierd program of elementary, middle and high school could be adopted. Students would pass from one to the other when they reach the required proficienciess for each level, regardless of age. In such a system, there will be some that will not go beyond the elementary level, the middle level or they may bog down at the high school level. Reasonable career outcomes can be designed for all levels, with the option for adult education being always available. Beyond high school, affordable, as in free university educational opportunities should be available to every student that achieves graduation from the high school level.
Dear Congress,
Take the No Child Left Behind Act that was ill-concieved and poorly implemented and scrap it. In its' place, set up a program that really does leave no child behind.

The real failed experiment was providing un accountable funding to the states from the mid sixties until NCLB which resulted in the expenditure of 140 billion dollars that did virtually nothing to help students in the poor and minority schools. If you want to fix NCLB You need to do at least four things. First install a national math and science curriculum and determine what vocabulary words a child needs to define spell and use in a sentence at each grade level. Provide this information online and/or in writing to every parent once a semester by subject. Provide examples of the math problems, science problems and the list of vocabulary words. Don’t even try and do a national history curriculum. We can borrow/benchmark the national content standards of one of the high performing systems in another country. I would take Singapore’s. They are already in English, the materials (textbooks, workbooks, teacher guides) are all paperback and they have PC based games to enhance the experience. The teacher’s guides are specific and easy to use. Second: Given the reluctance of teachers to extend the school year or school day and the lack of funding for this it makes sense to have NCLB encourage the use of the internet as a “force multiplier” in the classroom, in the school library and at home. US educators are way behind in adopting proven programs that are available online. www.headsprout.com is a highly effective inexpensive way to get 95% of first graders from early phonics to early reading. www.Mathscore.com is very effective tool to enable students to the basic math facts needed to learn algebra. We can take another lesson from Singapore and use the www.heymath.com online program to enhance and improve the teaching of middle school and high school math. Heymath is even endorsed by the Singapore Teachers union. You can take a page from Latin America over 2.5 million Spanish speaking first second and third graders learn math using APREMAT. It is now available online at www.aprematusa.org. There are 2.5 million Spanish speaking k-third graders in the US who are on the whole not learning math. Third: Have the education committees of the house and senate ask Google how they could organize the internets existing education content in a manner that would allow any student to easily locate the (free or fee) content or help they need by subject, by grade level without prolonged dead end searching. Think of it as Google earth for education. Fourth: Allow parents of those children who qualify for school lunch programs to apply directly for title one funds (yes vouchers) for tutoring to be able to be used to directly fund programs like Kumon, Headsprout, heymath. Too many teachers disparage, discourage and demean these programs out of their own ignorance.

Not only does Congress need to look at the requirements defining what a Quality Teacher is, but also the reason this Education Act was designed to met. We already have the Disabilities Act that covers those students who have educational disabilities, to ensure that they receive the best education that meets their needs.

If a special needs student has the mental age of a ten year old, the expectation of having this student be on grade level as a twelfth grader is unrealistic. Yet this does not mean that we just overlook the child and do not expect him to do nothing. There Disabilities Act makes sure that we provide that student an education in the “least restrictive” environment.

I would encourage Congress to take human behavior into account as they realign the accountability sections of NCLB. All humans respond to praise much better than punishment and the positive reinforcers have more permanent effects on change. Given this understanding, all of the accountability components of the law should be altered toward a positive, tiered or intermittent reinforcement structure. Thus, all of the wonderful reform efforts and changes being made to benefit children's learning would be rewarded and encourage states to continue to move through the processes that will ultimately take them to achieve the highest quality for ALL children in America! Isn't that the goal anyway?

Having taught and parented for many years now, the more I watch what happens in the elementary years, the more I am convinced that elementary school should be fun. That the kids like school is AT LEAST as important as that they learn anything. This need not preclude authentic learning, but let it be authentic. Hands-on math and science, project-based social studies and history, music and art, from respected and professional teachers. If 'accountability' must be assessed, make sure what we want to have practiced is what we assess, and do it no earlier than Jr High. Young kids can't help but learn. They do it all the time regardless, but what they're learning now is that school is lame.

And on the subject of teachers, I have never met a teacher that deliberately tried to harm or provide sub-standard experiences to their students (although I hear about some in the news...). Treat teachers professionally, and pay them accordingly. They're the ones who've been trained to teach (not politicians, obviously), and the teacher-preparation programs now are par-excellence. Today's teachers are more then adequately prepared to provide innovative and inspiring teaching to students at all levels. Let them do it and get out of their way. Mostly what they need from administration is reources for on-going professional development, memberships in professional societies, chances to attend conferences and seminars, and current teaching materials. The reason half of teachers leave the profession within five years is not the students, nor do they usually cite pay problems. It's the system - the bureaucracy, the being treated un-professionally, and the conditions in which they must work. With the current system, it's amazing to me that we still have people willing to teach in the public schools, and it's vital that we do.

NCLB is deeply flawed at both the operational and philosophical level. Scrap it wholesale.

And, most important, the onus of the responsibility for learning needs to be ON THE LEARNER! Placing the responsibility for learning on the teacher, the parent, the principal, the school board, or worst of all, on the government, denies the essential humanity of the individual learner, and represents an extraodinarily dangerous precedent (which is that someone else will be responsible for them) that will follow students through their lives, crippling their future potential. If the student will not learn, then by all means, leave them behind.

I'd like to give a specific example of what Professor Pyper said about treating teachers unprofessionally:

Last year, after 40 years of teaching, I showed a video of the Nutcracker Ballet to my first graders. I did this because they were going to see a live performance on the following Monday. (I had gotten a grant and paid for the video and part of the trip out of my own pocket.) While the children were listening in rapt attention, a young administrator walked into my room and marked me "off task" because the Nutcraker is not a standard! This experience was so humiliating to me that I retired at the end of the year even though I wanted to work a few more years. When I announced my retirement, many teachers, young and old, used the same word: "Lucky!" I am thankful that most of my teaching years were spent before NCLB.

I have just been reading the McKinsey report on best-performing school systems globally. It really does take a look outside our country to challenge some of our deeply-held beliefs about what works (and isn't).

First off, John Stallcup is right. If there is a failure, it is the Title I dollars that have been invested since the 1960s in an effort to equalize educational opportunity, but which have not had a long-term impact on learning (in any way that we can measure). There are certainly plenty of reasons, but certainly the tendency of the federal dollars to supplant rather than supplement, over time is a biggie. But one can go crazy trying to develop sufficient rules, formulae and enforcements to see that the money goes where intended, and only where intended, and that nothing is (ever) taken away from the recipients as a result. It really makes far more sense (and grants more freedom to the recipients, in the end), to measure outcomes. I think it is true, that the results of those measurements caught most of the country unaware--including the legislators who put NCLB together, and the teachers, schools and districts who really thought they were doing a pretty good job with most, if not all, of their kids.

I have wept for Linda and her Nutcracker lesson in the past, and will do so again, but I gotta say, nothing in NCLB prescribes (or proscribes) lessons or methodology (putting aside the Reading First debacle--which I think is something different). It doesn't even prescribe standards--only that there be some. It does wisely require NAEP participation by a representative sampling in each state--otherwise we would never know (empirically) which states were racing to the bottom.

As a parent, of a student who will likely have completed high school before the reauthorization, my biggest gripe would be that change has not come fast enough. Between the old salts who have chosen to "wait this one out," and plan to retire anyway before 2014, and the administrators who jumped into panic mode with quick fixes (scripting lessons, test, test, test practices, test prep, break-neck pacing guides and blaming every unpopular move on NCLB), change has come at a snail's pace. When schools are facing the need to restructure in a major way (and the easiest way for the district to do this is to shuffle the teachers around), I have to wonder--what has been going on for the last five to seven years, when you knew this would be coming? Can you point out the changes? Can you discuss the research on which they were based? How did they impact learning--how did you know and how did you adjust for what did not? What I have seen too often instead has been a "work harder" environment, with perhaps some workshops and the things I mentioned above--drilling, racing through the pacing guide, test practice. Teachers are burnt out and discouraged and not much has changed for the better.

I do agree that there needs to be some rethinking of "highly qualified," and this is where McKinsey comes in. First, again as a parent, I was dismayed at how quickly my son's out of field teachers acquired "highly qualified" status. But a six week summer program for science teachers will never take the place of degree in biology. This is where a careful comparison to other countries really points out a deficit in the US. Our colleges of education are not selective, and as a result, draw from the lower third of hs graduates. It used to be different (when women only had two professional fields to choose from)--but that's where it is now. Starting salaries are low, and increases come primarily from surviving a long time. We do very little in the way of providing or supervising field experience (think about medicine, dentistry, pharmacology, or even the law or plumbing). Where we do score lots of points compared to other countries, is in the amount of professional development offered/required after hire. An appropriate role for federal dollars (after all, that is how the feds back door into the education arena) might be to support development of highly competitive teacher education programs--with a guarantee of employment at the end, or payback of loans based on years teaching in high needs buildings. Same thing needs to be done to get the right people the right training and support to become principals.

I am a little reluctant to go very far with Merit Pay--but certainly there are means of taking into account the value add of an experienced teacher in meaningful ways, such as a step up for coaching/mentoring new teachers INTENSIVELY. Limiting the number of classroom hours for entry-level teachers and adjusting upwards as they are deemed able to handle more.

I do think that No Child has opened our eyes to how poorly we have been doing, for some children. Certainly those who have pointed out the needs for more comprehensive supports (health care, jobs, etc) are also on the right track. But now that we know--we really gotta do something to make it better.

Many people have mentioned the unintended consequences of NCLB. Margot is correct in saying that the law does not proscribe lessons or methods; but the emphasis on test scores has forced many districts to pressure teachers to teach to the test, all day and every day. When the administrator told me I wasn't teaching to the standards with the Nutcracker, she really meant that I wasn't preparing the children for the test. It just so happens that the Nutcracker meets quite a few standards for our state: visual and performing arts, music, listening and vocabulary and even history (costumes and traditions of earlier times).

I am a veteran teacher of 28 years. I have taught in a variety of schools with differing social and economic situations.I too believe all children can learn.I too believe that we need to raise the bar and hold students and teachers accountable.Unfortunately though, all children do not and can not learn at the same rate. NCLB has penalized those students (frequently students with disabilities) who are not functioning academically at there chronological ages.Schools are being put on a "Watch List",or "Does not Meet List" due to a small sub-category of students,sometimes only one or two special needs students, who may be required to take a test on a level much higher than their instructional level.These students unsurprisingly don't meet standards. This label, "Does not meet AYP", paints a picture of the school for the public which is undeserved. Parents need to have confidence in their children's schools. Teachers while being charged to provide a challenging curriculum which meets the needs of his/her students should not have the added pressure to be expected to prepare students to take a test 1-3 years in advance of their ability level. This one issue has caused a multitude of problems for schools and school systems across the nation.I hope an amendment addressing the educational needs and appropriate assessment of all our students is written into NCLB

In an age when we know so much more about how people learn, and we know and feel that education is more than learning and being tested on basic skills, why do we continue to advocate for an industrial model of school?

Is it not time for some bold initiatives, some new models, some new and transformative learning environments. The world has passed the schools by, the students are mocking us, and we argue about No Child Left Behind.

The children have left us behind! To them, we look like fools arguing about the deck chairs on the Titanic. NCLB is and was a regressive and poorly poorly planned initiative, like everything else the current administration has foisted upon us. An excellent example of the kind of thinking that is being done by this administration and the pseudo-educators in the Education Department is the move to "authentic and valid research." The premise is based on elementary science studies and methods, which cannot and should not be used in a sociological studies.

My recommendation, then, for NCLB. Trash it and start over, using new and modern methods of education, learning, and schools.

The NCLB law is founded on the seriously flawed premise from the beginning and that is the belief that it would ever be possible for all students in any given grade to ever all be at or above grade level at any given point in time. This is an impossibility. More logical would be a goal of all children making progress in closing the achievement gap and achieving adult functional literacy and math ability. There are differences in learning/cognitive ability among individuals and those who are more limited can still learn but perhaps at a slower rate and they will perhaps not achieve to the same level by high school graduation but they could achieve life functional proficiency that will allow them to hold productive employment and manage their life affairs with as much independence as possible. Insisting that students who have been Learning English for just one year be tested in English and having the expectation that by some point in time those students will be at grade level, despite only having the opportunity to acquire English proficiency for just one year is a ludicrous expectation. Students with significant disabilities that impair their learning are identified as having a disability partially on the basis of their not having made adequate progress with the same educational programming and interventions to which the majority of the general population responds with success and those disabled students also display differences and deficits in their information processing abilities that interfer with their learning in a normal fashion. It is also quite unreasonable for there to be an expectation that somehow they will miraculously become no longer disabled and be able to achieve at or above grade level. Finally, there are children whose education is impaired by forces outside of the control of school, children who have been traumatized, neglected, abused, exposed to violence or serious AODA use in the home, children who have been homeless, lacked adequate physical and emotional nurturance, children who have changed schools numerous times due to family instability so that they hardly ever are in the same school for an entire school year. No matter what good educational programming may be available for these children in any given school system, the children may not be emotionally or cognitively available to benefit from that programming for a wide range of reasons that are beyond the scope of the school's juridiction. The NCLB law needs to focus on the measurement of progress of individual children from year to year rather than on a percentage of chidlren falling at or above grade level. This would be useful for making educational decisions to support those children not making adequate progress, which the current assessment system is not useful for. This would take into account the different starting points and differing interferring factors for each child rather than assume all other factors are equal and it is just the adequacy of instructional programming that is the problem.

Research has proven that it is essential that schools focus on improving relationships and engagement of students on an equal par with curriculum and instruction in order for true academic progress to be made but the NCLB law focus only on the curriculum and instruction part, ignoring the other supports that may be needed to truly give children who are not succeeding a better chance at success. NCLB should provide resources to enhance the support services like psychological, health, social and behavioral, and home stability/community needs of underachieving children. Unfortuately, these supports are increasingly being squeezed out by the financial demands of the testing and sole focus on curriculum and instruction, with State Education financial support and Local financial resources shrinking as well. This increasing gap in funding the full range of supports needed for struggling children to succeed dooms the NCLB effort.

Further, the very basis of assessment required by the NCLB law is faulty. The Achievement tests used to measure academic progress are "norm-referenced" instruments, speifically designed to distribute scores across a normal curve. On such instruments, it is never be possible for all children to achieve an average to above average score. The test design prevents that outcome. If the government wants to continue to insist on using a paper and pencil test to measure progress, at least those instruments should be "criterion-referenced" tests, which assess the skills deemed appropriate according to the grade level standards and benchmarks, in as authentic a manner as possible, re: related to real world application. On this type of assessment,children could demonstrate progress toward meeting grade level expectations. Further, it makes no sense to assess a child's skills on an instrument that is way above the actual skill level of the child. All you find out is that the child cannot do grade level work or read grade level material. You find out nothing about the child's actual skills or the progress that the child is making, whether that child is closing the achievement gap. A case in point might be a learning disabled child who is reading at a late first to early 2nd grade level but is in the 5th grade. This child is made to take the test where reading level of the material is 5th grade level. The child has no chance to make any sense of the written material so is left to simply randomly guess and fill in the little cirles without having read the material at all. What kind of information does one get from this child's score? Nothing of value. Wouldn't it make more sense to have tests that have a range of reading levels so that it is possible to see just where a child is performing and then what progress toward closing the gap the child makes by the next year? Might not it make sense for children to actually be able to read and do the math for at least some of the test rather than just rangomly guessing and filling in little circles in a time comsuming but meaningless exercise? Not to mention the self-esteem destructive message we are sending the child when they are unable to be successful on any part of these tests that we tell them are so important that we take up huge amounts of isntructional time preparing them to take the tests and then actually giving the tests! Do we really want to see what kind of progress children are making? Or just pretend that is what we are doing?

Further, with the current testing system, faulty instrumentation and all, things are further aggravated by the fact that each state designs its own tests and each state decides on its own cut scores for rating a child as scoring in the "minimal", "basic", "proficent" and "advanced" range. So comparing results state to state is comparing apples and oranges. Cut scores are changed periodically by states, perhaps because too many chldren were found to be performing below the "proficient" range, so comparing results from some years to other years is also comparing apples and oranges. Then there is the problem that scoring "proficient" by a state's cut scores on a state's test does not necessarily translate into the child actually possessing and being able to demonstrate grade level skills in the classroom or on a criterion referenced test of grade level skills. It is no surprise that the results of the NCLB testing and National Assessment of Academic Achievement are not consistent.

Finally, Learning and Behavioral Theory and research have firmly established that a punishment system of behavior modification is the LEAST effective means of bringing about change. Yet the NCLB law is based on just that, punishing schools and school systems when there is a failure to make the AYP. Rather, the law ought to be helping to identify schools in need of help and then providing the resources to those schools needed to bring about changes in a proactive manner for the benefit of the students attending those schools. Teachers are dedicated people who go into education as a career because it is a calling. They want all their students to succeed but are often not provided with the resources they need and the support systems they need to address the range of factors that may be impeding their students. The NCLB law ought to be providing more support, not taking away resources or threatening punishment. It is very energizing to say to a staff that it is recognized for how hard they are working and that they are going to be provided with the resources they need to improve their success rate! Those staffs get very excited and rejuvenated and then can make great strides with their struggling students. Working out of fear and under-resourced just burns people out. The law needs to be changed to actually be a value added rather than a value detractor.

We need accountability. I do think we need to trash how NCLB standardized tests are scored. For two reasons: (1) They only count right marks. (2) Teachers mimic this scoring in preparing students for the tests. The end results are students are driven to perform at the lowest levels of thinking and at-risk students repeatedly see failing scores with large numbers of wrong marks.

I worked several years with students in a remedial biology course (120 per section). The bi-weekly multiple-choice test was scored for what a student had mastered and for what the student had yet to learn. The student received a quality score, a quantity score, and a test score based on quality and quantity.

Regardless of the test score, high quality students could report what they had mastered without having to mark a bunch of wrong answers to questions they could not understand or even read. They used the test to report what they had mastered not something to work for "the best answer."

High quality students knew what they had mastered and I did too. The test was a positive experience. It encouraged them to trust their own judgment rather than to trust luck. It set them on the path from passive pupil to self-correcting scholar.

I would recommend to the revisers of NCLB to replace the scoring of multiple-choice tests by just counting right marks with "Knowledge and Judgment Scoring" to get a student view of the tests.

NCLB was supposed to be "research based" but as psychologist Lauren Mikol makes clear, this law has actually pressured educators to ignore longstanding research on learning, motivation, assessment, methodology and teacher retention. I don't understand how this inane law could have been enacted. If I could speak to a member of Congress, I'd like to ask this question: How did this happen?

I think students must be tested in science as well as reading, writing and math. There are many people saying that the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in science (as well as math) so there students and teachers must be held accountable in both science and math.

Actually, I was frightened when I read Lauren Mikol's comments--wondering how it could happen that she hs a school psychologist with such a wealth of misinformation.

First off, the tests in a standards-based environment are criterion-referenced, not norm referenced. The argument that "the curve" means that we can never reach a point of all children proficient is inappropriate. Think of a drivers test. There is a presumption that all who are physically ablt can learn to drive and pass the test.

Which brings up the second large area of inaccuracies (particularly frightening since school psychologists are typically employed for the purpose to determining eligibility for special educational services). Her understandings of disability seem to be much better grounded in the rules of determining eligibility than in any understanding of cognitive ability. Cognitive impairment is involved in a small percentage of disabilities that may affect learning. Based on the percentages typically ocurring, schools are directed to provide alternative testing for students who are cognitively impaired. For students with non-cognitive disabilities ("learning disabilities" of varying kinds, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia; emotional impairment, behavioral disorders, ADHD etc), the aim of "special education" or special educational supports and services, has for some time been, not to provide that sheltering room down the hall where not too much is expected, but to support the student in gaining access to learning in the general curriculum. Sadly, as long as there was little to no accountability (parents could play dueling lawyers and experts if their student wasn't meeting the broadly defined goals of an iep), there were in fact fifth graders reading at the first grade level--and if you dug down deep enough, not being particularly expected or supported in doing better. Some contributing factors: delayed identification (he'll outgrow it, you don't want her stigmatized, we don't test before third grade, etc); geographic cures (now that your kid has been identified, we'll move him into a different class--if that doesn't work, there's a differently labelled class in another school); non-individualized services (we only give one hour a week of OT); the resource room set-up (the "smaller classroom" that is the only service that the district is willing to clearly define, has the most needy kids, and covers three or more grade levels), the tutoring set-up (one-on-oned means one aid with three students in a closet working on three subjects)--need I go on?

I am always amused when someone from a school system brings in the argument that punishment is not a motivator. While it is true, schools are not exactly sterling examples of discipline by other means. However, I fail to see much in the way of "punishment" in NCLB. The consequences included in the law (with some state to state variance) dictate that a school that is not making progress toward the proficiency goal (with varying definitions by state) for all defined groups of students has to make transfers and tutoring available--and they have to begin planning systematically for improvement. Any teacher who doesn't plan similarly for students who aren't making progress (even before NCLB) is clearly missing the boat. And I don't think anyone would accuse them of punishment.

I will concede that some day we may determine that everyone cannot achieve basic literacy and numeracy. But I just don't think we are even close to being able to have that discussion.

Comments are now closed for this post.

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Recent Comments

  • Margo/Mom: Actually, I was frightened when I read Lauren Mikol's comments--wondering read more
  • Roselle Zubey Education Student: I think students must be tested in science as well read more
  • Linda/Retired Teacher: NCLB was supposed to be "research based" but as psychologist read more
  • Richard Hart, Prof. Emeritus NWMSU: We need accountability. I do think we need to trash read more
  • Lauren Mikol, School Psychologist: The NCLB law is founded on the seriously flawed premise read more

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