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NCLB Outrages

Testing Not Adding Up to Success

How quickly they point to the teachers when they wish to cast blame for a failing federal program. It, of course, couldnít possibly be that the testing program simply doesnít address the problems of education, could it?

The government is still trying to fix education. It may be some time before that statement changes, but in Texas there are growing doubts that the attempts being made are truly addressing educational issues.

There are more and more stories appearing that raise questions about the way government is going about the business of rebuilding education. No Child Left Behind hangs its hat on testing. Just test 'em, baby. That will provide a nice number that we can offer people to let them know what great jobs we are all doing to improve education.

You see, there are people that need to place things in a nice neat package, wrapped in a bow, so that they can side step the nasty, hard work that is truly required to get the job done. For now all we seem to be able to do is to continue to point out questions about the grand plan that is in place at this time.

The latest story to come across the Associated Press line takes place in Texas. This is the home of the president, home of the flagship schools that are being used to highlight the success of NCLB. Except, the AP is reporting that dozens of Texas schools appear to have cheated on the state's redesigned academic-achievement test, casting doubt on whether the accountability system can reliably measure how schools are performing, a newspaper found.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that an analysis uncovered strong evidence of organized, educator-led cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (the model for NCLB) at schools in Houston and Dallas, along with suspicious scores in hundreds of other schools.

Texas education policies on student accountability became the model for the federal No Child Left Behind law enacted after President Bush's election in 2000.

The AP reported that a newspaper analyzed scores from 7,700 Texas schools, searching for ones with unusual gaps in performance between grades or subjects. It said "research has shown that schools that are weak in one subject or grade are typically weak in others."

The AP report stated that more than 200 schools had large, unexplained score gaps between grades or between the TAKS and other standardized tests, such as the Stanford Achievement Test.

It found, for example, that the "fourth-graders at Sanderson Elementary School in the Houston Independent School District scored extremely poorly on the math TAKS test this year, rating the school in the bottom 2 percent of the state." Yet, 90 percent of the school's fifth-graders ended up with perfect or near-perfect scores while compiling the highest scale scores on the math TAKS of any school in Texas.

Houston superintendent Abe Saavedra said he has asked the Texas Education Agency to investigate the scores at Sanderson, which former education secretary Rod Paige and the U.S. Education Department named a Blue Ribbon School in 2003 because of rapid improvements in test results.

"At HISD, our credibility and integrity must remain absolutely beyond question," Saaverdra said in a statement.

Similar results were found at Harrell Budd Elementary in Dallas. The AP stated that third-grade students finished in the bottom 4 percent in reading, but Budd's fourth-graders had the second-highest reading scores in the state, behind a Houston magnet school for gifted children.

Dallas district spokesman Donald Claxton said officials there plan a thorough investigation.

"If there's cheating going on, we want to stop it," he said.

Jim Impara, a former state assessment director in Florida and Oregon, said he believes such school-rating systems are changing the culture of education.

"When you have a system where test scores have real impact on teachers' lives, you're more likely to see teachers willing to cheat," he said.

How quickly they point to the teachers when they wish to cast blame for a failing federal program. It, of course, couldnít possibly be that the testing program simply doesnít address the problems of education, could it?

This ongoing discussion about fixing education with blanket, one-size-fits-all tests is not a solution in and of itself. It may provide a tool to assess trends and address groups of students and some of the issues that exist in education. However, to promote the idea that long-term use of this strategy is going to correct what ails education is irresponsible.

Make no mistake about it, they will be able to cover up the shortcomings of education if they stay on this path. In the long run, it will be easier to teach students how to take a test and to streamline the curriculum so that all you teach are the very narrow parameters that federal testing illustrate. They will cover up the problems by saying, "See, they are passing the tests, so they must be more knowledgeable, and must be better prepared for the real world."

If we stay on this course, we wonít know what hit us, or education, until itís too late. Once that happens we will spend the next decade cleaning up the mess.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again and again and again; if you want to fix education, then get the parents involved. If something needs to be fixed, it's the family unit. Teachers can do but so much, and then it's up to those that truly influence children. No matter what a teacher convinces a child of in the classroom, if it is not reinforced at home then the days work will not amount to anything.

— Stephen Winslow
Augusta Free Press


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