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Chapa LaVia resolution lists sad but true effects of test mania

Ohanian Note: I subscribe to Illinois School News Service because Jim Broadway so often makes trenchant comments on what's up in ed policy that affects us all. Here, he notes that "the Obama Administration, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief School Officials seem to be championing the flaw that is at the common core of NCLB."

Imagine my delight to be be mentioned in the company of Alfie Kohn and Gerald Bracey as helping to reveal that flaw over the last decade. My website was launched to document the evils of NCLB and then morphed into other matters.

I echo Broadway's enthusiasm for the 2004 analysis by Lawrence Baines and Gregory Stanley entitled: The High-Stakes Hustle: Public Schools and the New Billion Dollar Accountability.

By Jim Broadway, Publisher, Illinois School News Service

The No Child Left Behind Act has been pretty roundly discredited even by high ranking public officials of the political party of the man for whom it has often been lauded as "his most significant domestive policy achievement."

But now the Obama Administration, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief School Officials seem to be championing the flaw that is at the common core of NCLB: high-stakes testing as an "accountability" mechanism. It is a corporate-driven prime example of the road that is paved with good intentions.

Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), a longtime Illinois legislative leader in education policy has filed a House Joint Resolution (the "Joint" part requires the Senate to pass it too for it to have any effect) urging federal officials, in effect, to abandon NCLB-style reliance on testing. HJR 45 includes many reasons for doing so.

Mostly, it hasn't worked. In 2002, U.S. math students' ranked 18th in the world on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and they fell to 31st in the world in 2009. And math must be one of the more easily tested of subjects. It's not very subjective. It is math, our most wonderful tool of logical thought.

NCLB-stoked failure is costly, the resolution asserts. Chapa LaVia's measure puts the 2008 cost at $1.1 billion per year, up from an earlier figure of $423 million. I'd say both figures are dramatically understated, if the costs of teachers' time doing test-prep is included. But it's one area in which the math does become subjective.

The venerable Educational Forum of Kappa Delta Pi publishes, among other things, "thought-provoking, challenging essays, research reports, and featured works designed to stimulate dialogue in education on a worldwide scale."

Visibly in the "thought-provoking" category would be the 2004 essay by Lawrence Baines and Gregory Stanley entitled: The High-Stakes Hustle: Public Schools and the New Billion Dollar Accountability.

A decade ago, so early in the NCLB experience, Baines and Stanley made a strong case for a national expenditure for high-stakes testing being at the $50 billion level. Even worse, they linked its roots to 20th century eugenics. Both of these assertions seem beyond the fringe -- until you read the essay.

The resolution echoes the complaints of many educators and analysts over the last decade ( Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Gerald Bracey) that it does a disservice to public education, to educators and to students, for the results of high-stakes tests to be used as the primary basis for any momentous decisions.

Over time, social attitudes evolve. When there is no choice, acceptance takes over. People even begin to believe that an idea they once ridiculed as insane is now properly at the center of the nation's educational policy. Bt let's move on.

Testing with huge consequences narrows the curriculum, stifles creativity and stands as a barrier to deep learning of anything. Chapa LaVia cites studies suggesting that NCLB has caused districts to slash the time that students spent on science, social studies and the arts so they could practice math and reading questions.

Eventually, the resolution gets to one of the testing mania's most twisted effects, the multitude of negative impacts based on race, socioeconomic status, national origin, culture, native language. (Eugenics topics, folks.)

"WHEREAS, English language learners and students with disabilities must take the same test as other students with little or no accommodations; and

"WHEREAS, High-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

"WHEREAS, The structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote knowledge ...."

The "Now therefore be it resolved" section effectively expresses the will of the 99th Illinois General Assembly as urging the federal government to "reexamine public school accountability systems," to move away from "extensive testing" and to "promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality...."

Might this resolution be adopted by both chambers? It could. Many in both parties, many liberals and many conservatives, are fed up with having education policy imposed from the federal level, with having the 10% of school funding that comes from Washington become the tail that wags the dog of public education.

Would it have influence with the feds? Given the current federal school policy schizophrenia, a strong statement from one of the larger and wealthier states' legislatures -- that would be ours -- might help them achieve consensus.

— Jim Broadway
Illinois School News Service





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