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NCLB Outrages

Panel Grades Results of NCLB

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Helping students make the grade.

Congressman Rush Holt, along with state Department of Education Commissioner Dr. William Librera, and President and CEO of Educational Testing Service Kurt Landgraf, held a public dialogue on school testing at South Brunswick High School Tuesday.

The panel focused on the problems of manipulation and misuse of testing results to label and punish schools and students, particularly under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The legislation creates standards of passing that schools must meet or be sanctioned and penalized. Reports on progress are required for grades four, eight and 11 in math and literacy. The goal of the legislation is to have 100 percent proficiency of all students in math and literacy by the year 2014.

Holt said part of the No Child Left Behind program’s problems are that ranking schools takes attention away from the real focus and purpose of the law, which is to improve progress in students.

“As a former educator, I understand both the benefits and limitations of standardized tests,” Holt said.

The principles behind the No Child Left Behind law, Holt said, are well-founded, and all schools should be held accountable for their students.

William Librera said testing is an important issue that is frequently misunderstood.

“There is so much value in assessment,” Librera said. “It is important to capitalize on it.”

Librera stressed the differences between assessment and evaluation. According to Librera, schools must begin with what the tests tell before drawing conclusion or evaluations. Assessments, Librera said, are done to learn where a student’s or school’s progress is at any give time, and should be used for diagnostic purposes.

The context around the numbers, Librera said, is what really is important. The goals of testing, according to Librera, are compromised when conversations about which schools are on “passing” or “failing” lists are held, instead of conversations about how student performances can be improved.

Landgraf said the No Child Left Behind legislation may be the most important educational initiative of the last 150 years.

The problem, Landgraf said, is the inappropriate use of assessment or test results to make judgments of students or schools. An appropriate use, he said, is to identify the strengths in students, target resources and help teachers adjust curriculum.

When results from No Child Left Behind are used as a diagnostic tool, education is better for all involved, Landgraf said. The assessment tools should not be discredited but used in a pro-active way, he said.

Participants of the panel’s discussion, which included teachers, principals and school administrators, voiced concern over the No Child Left Behind Act, particularly the standards used for special education children and the idea behind not allowing teachers or administrators to view the test before teaching their curriculum.

Principal Edward Fenske, director of education at Princeton Child Development Institute, who works with disabled students, said the No Child Left Behind Act sets unreasonable performance standards for students with learning disabilities.

Under the act, Fenske said, learning-impaired students are held to the same standards of performance as non-learning-impaired students. Those standards, according to Fenske, are standards that disabled students can’t achieve, and emphasize what they can’t do.

Fenske said different sets of standards should be used for an average 15-year-old South Brunswick student and a student with autism who has limited language skills.

Fenske said he applauds the issue of accountability, and standards should be set high, but they should also be attainable.

Landgraf, in response, said all students should be held to standards that allow them to show yearly progress. Landgraf, whose son is learning-impaired, said his son was left behind and not held accountable for any progress of any kind.

Librera said the goal of improving child’s performance would be to see results, have plans for progress and encourage parents to follow their child’s progress in school. He said the No Child Left Behind act should not go away because the goals are admirable. What needs to change, according to Librera, is its implementation.

The worst implementation of the legislation, he said, is when “ ‘needs improvement’ means ‘you’re failing.’ ”

Librera also said teachers are not permitted to view the tests, a decision made by the Department of Education, because of the high stakes surrounding the results.

The responsibility of teachers, Librera said, is to change the perception of testing. It’s important to let kids know that there are other indicators of success, he said.

— Melissa Cifelli
The Sentinel (North and South Brunswick, NJ)


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