Researcher says tests don't work; Expert opposes 'No Child Left Behind' program
Ohanian Comment: Kudos to this reporter for capturing much more than a sound bite from Gerald Bracey's talk. And Bracey? Well, he's always top notch. Buy his new book, Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered.
By Natalie Garcia
FRESNO — As Gerald Bracey sees it, the odds are stacked against students and educators under the "No Child Left Behind" law.
"There are 47 ways to fail and one way to succeed," said Bracey, an author and expert on student assessment.
Bracey, who spoke during a weekend conference at California State University, Fresno, on literacy instruction and testing, addressed what he called the absurdities of standardized testing.
One of the biggest absurdities, Bracey said is that schools alone can't accomplish what the NCLB requires. While it expects schools to close the achievement gap between affluent and poor, majority and minority, Bracey says, the gap appears before school. And between birth and age 18, children spend only 9 percent of their lives in schools.
Bracey cited the absurdity as evidence that the "No Child Left Behind" federal education policy is not productive for schools and students, as well as is a poor gauge of learning.
Bracey, who has a doctorate from Stanford University in psychology, has been an independent educational researcher and writer since 1991, specializing in assessment and policy analysis.
Bracey believes standardized testing has little connection to education.
"Those kinds of tests don't tell you anything about how people learn," Bracey said to a classroom filled mostly with educators. "What kids learn for a test stays highly limited to that test."
Bracey cited data in which a group of students did well on one test and did poorly on a differently formatted test covering the same material. He believes "No Child Left Behind" forces teachers to teach children only how to pass standardized tests.
"This is what our kids' brains are going to look like when they get through all this standardized testing," Bracey said as a slide of square watermelons from Japan appeared on an overhead projector.
The watermelons were grown in containers to give them their square shape in order to conserve space.
The example of the manipulated fruit has deeper meaning, according to Bracey. Countries such as Japan and Singapore have traditions of high performing educational systems, but also of stifling creativity, original thought and ideas, he said.
Bracey presented a long list of characteristics that are not measured by standardized tests. Among them were courage, resilience and civic-mindedness.
Among those in the audience was Linda Caffejian, a retired Fresno teacher who now works with special education teachers at California State University, Fresno. She also believes the current method of assessment is not fair.
"You should never judge any person with one piece of data," she said. "You don't get true results."
Caffejian, who has over 35 years of teaching experience, recalled a particular instance with standardized tests that bothered her.
"I had a student who did very well on standardized tests, but he couldn't read," Caffejian said. If she hadn't heard the boy try to read, she would have never known, she said.
Caffejian would like to see more hands-on and diverse assessments.
"We want students and teachers to be judged by multiple measures," she said "Performance — have them read to me."
She also said that teachers need to be able to take more time to get to know their students and recognize their individual needs, as well as direct them elsewhere for help if necessary.
She said that "No Child Left Behind" does not allow for that kind of individual attention.
"Good teachers are more than just educators. Sometimes they are social workers, sometimes they're mothers," Caffejian said. "We need to know what is going on with these kids so we can connect them with the right agencies."
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES