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NCLB Outrages

Survey says NCLB alters curriculum

If this can happen in Vermont, with its long history of community involvement in schools, what's happening elsewhere?

By Darren M. Allen

MONTPELIER What Vermont students learn and how they are taught are increasingly dictated by standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a new Dartmouth College survey.

The curriculum shift is, in many cases, a departure from standards adopted by local school boards and the state Department of Education, said the survey, which was conducted by the Policy Research Shop at Dartmouth's Nelson A. Rockefeller Center.

The survey's preliminary results suggest that as students, teachers and parents start dissecting the latest national achievement scores released Wednesday, they need to analyze whether local and state control over educational standards are being changed.

While the No Child Left Behind Act was designed to "strengthen student competency in math, reading and science, policymakers, educators and researchers have raised concerns that the new accountability system may also lead to a shift in school curriculum toward the tested subjects and away from other non-tested subjects," the study's authors concluded.

The survey said that more than 83 percent of Vermont superintendents who responded said "teaching to the tests" were increasingly common or occurring "throughout the district."

Education Commissioner Richard Cate disputed that state standards were being materially compromised by the new federal standards, despite the potentially dire consequences facing a school if it fails to meet those standards.

He added, however, that he would not be surprised if individual teachers and schools gear some of their instructional efforts to making sure students do well on the tests.

"What I say to schools all the time is that I do not want you to change the vision Vermont has had for many years because of No Child Left Behind," Cate said in a brief interview last week. "The test is simply one indicator."

But it is an indicator with a great deal of consequence. If schools are deemed to be failing, they can potentially lose federal funding and face increasing sanctions until they do improve. Such high stakes, the survey said, are weighing heavily on all schools in every state.

And one of the effects could be a reduced emphasis on subjects not measured on the tests.

"Despite state standards in non-tested subject areas, the imposition of high-stakes testing appears to cause school districts to prioritize tested subjects over non-tested subjects," the survey said.

It added, "A curriculum shift to the tested subjects is occurring regardless of other state standards and policies that require other subjects, like social studies and the arts, be important parts of the curriculum."

Contact Darren Allen at darren.allen@rutlandherald.com.

— Darren M. Allen
Rutland Herald


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