Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Nation's students not on same page

Ohanian Comment: Editorial buffoons make an uninformed call for national standards. Every sentence contains a distortion of facts. They insist that we know state tests are inadequate at assessing students because they don't get same results as NAEP. Indeed. How many times do they have to be told that the National Academy of Sciences, among others, has called NAEP tests "fundamentally flawed," advising that they should not be used to validate state assessments.

These editorialists seem to think that decreeing what students should know means they will learn it--on schedule. What are these guys in Denver, their brethren in the editorial department of the Washington Post, and Brent Staples and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times sniffing? I'd like to suggest that all of them should watch the HBO movie Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card. How about getting their learned opinion of the geometry class? Not enough rigor there?

The trouble is these pundits would watch the movie and find 116 more reasons for blaming teachers.

One part of the movie that broke my heart was watching the fine chorus perform parts of Handel's Messiah to an almost-empty auditorium. I wept for those students who had so few people to come and applaud their accomplishment.

The editorialists claim that "A rigorous national standard would give parents, educators and policy makers an objective yardstick for educational progress." No, it wouldn't. Standards are not objective. They are arbitrary judgments about what kids should learn and when they should learn it. And a test is unlikely to tell you whether they know what you think is being measured or not. Just read how the NAEP scorers score tests. The reading passages are questionable and the scorers' reasoning is beyond the bend.


Rigorous national standards for math and reading would give parents, educators and policy makers an important yardstick.

Declining nationwide math scores again underscore the the need, we think, for national standards in reading and math.

Such an effort is under way, with 46 states voluntarily banding together to decide what students in each grade ought to know.

It's important for states to get honest about where their students really are, academically, and to stop relying on state-developed assessment tests that too often seem designed to show high passage rates.

That need became more clear this week with the release of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The test, taken earlier this year by 330,000 students, showed that fewer than four in 10 eighth-graders and fourth-graders nationally are proficient in math. Colorado scored better, with proficiency levels at 40 percent for eight-graders and 45 percent for fourth-graders.

Colorado is one of the states involved in the development of national standards.

A rigorous national standard would give parents, educators and policy makers an objective yardstick for educational progress.

Think about it: If you see that your state ranks low in achievement but high in per-student funding, you might be inclined to ask why and demand better. To be clear, such standards would not be a mandate, and they would not require states to teach the same way. For instance, it wouldn't matter if a state used phonics or whole word recognition to teach reading, so long as students could read at grade level.

It's a good step away from what we think was an unintended effect of No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era effort to improve education through sanctions for non-compliance. States were allowed to choose their own standards and many, fearing punishment, dumbed down their assessment tests.

A national standard of achievement could be indexed against other countries in the world, an increasingly important measure. We need to prepare young people for a world in which they not only compete against each other, but in a global economy.

"The goal obviously is to raise the bar for everyone, and it's very important that this not be watered down," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in June.

The NAEP, while valuable, is not administered annually and is only taken by a sample of children. An honest assessment for each grade, administered to all children annually, would be a laudable first phase.

We also must engage in difficult public conversations about what's wrong with schools and how those problems can be remedied. It won't be easy, as it pits entrenched interests, mostly those of adults, against what is best for children.

We all know how those decisions ought to come down, but we must have the fortitude to make the right call.

— Editorial
Denver Post


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.