School choice option not always best one
The facts seem pretty straightforward: This year, more than two dozen children in New Hampshire fled “failing schools” in their districts. Twenty-one of those children live in Nashua.
One-third of Nashua’s elementary schools are rated “in need of improvement” based on the results of standardized testing given to third-grade students.
As a result, the four elementary schools – Amherst Street, Fairgrounds, Ledge Street and Mount Pleasant – must allow students to transfer to “higher-performing” schools in town.
Four students from Amherst Street and one from Mount
Pleasant attend Charlotte Avenue; six students from Fairgrounds and nine from Ledge Street attend New Searles; and one student from Mount Pleasant attends Broad Street.
Only three other districts in the state – Manchester, Somersworth and Timberlane – have to offer school choice, and each has only one elementary school on the improvement list.
So, are Nashua’s schools failing our students? Or is the system of standard testing and federal mandates failing us all?
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed with bipartisan support in 2001, was designed to improve the performance of public schools through assessments, accountability and structured corrective actions. The ideals behind the law are laudable, although in practice the methods may be better suited to industry than education.
At the center of the law is standardized testing, an assessment method that while widely used is also widely criticized for cultural bias and limited value in gauging individual student knowledge or progress.
Unfortunately, what the tests seem to be best at is identifying schools with a large number of poor and minority students. All of Nashua’s failing schools have relatively higher poverty rates and minority populations, a fact that says more about the tests than the students.
Ironically, one of the goals of No Child Left Behind is to narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor students and between racial and ethnic groups, referred to as “subgroups” within the assessment structure. This process is confusing enough that the state and federal government disagree as to how to calculate the results.
More important, though, is the failure of a single subgroup of students to score well on any portion of the test means the entire school receives a failing grade.
Student assessment testing is an appropriate method of measuring progress for a school or district. However, to truly benefit individual students, the remedies need to be tailored and applied at an individual level.
Labeling a school with the broad brush of “failure” does nothing to assure that assistance will be delivered where it is really needed. Instead, it guarantees teachers and administrators will resort to “teaching to the test” and find ways to game the system in order to meet the standards at the expense of actually improving their schools.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES