Dear Commons Community,
Yesterday’s New York Times editorial praised the results of No Child Left Behind and called on Congress to reauthorize it and to maintain its excessive testing requirements. Daneil Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation, Seton Hall University, rebuts the Times editorial on several issues but especially on the weakness of the test score argument. Here is an excerpt:
“Two weeks ago the New York Times published a guest editorial by Chad Aldeman defending keeping annual testing as a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as Congress is debating revisions and renewals to the changes made in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I was not especially impressed. Today, the editorial board itself has chimed in with what could have been a carbon copy of Mr. Aldeman’s position. The board implores Congress to maintain annual testing as a key component of federal education law, and, unsurprisingly, I find the arguments less than stellar.
The board covers fairly familiar ground while acknowledging that some aspects of NCLB have been negative, such as the inability of test-based accountability to distinguish between so-called “failing” schools and schools that missed certain accountability targets as measured by tests. The board also acknowledges that testing has expanded to consume too much attention in many states and districts.
However, their recommendation that states “fix this” by “identifying and discarding unnecessary tests and, if necessary, placing explicit limits on how much time can be spent on testing” misses that it is the federal accountability requirements that spawned excessive testing and test preparation in the first place. It is an act of fancy rhetorical footwork to blame states and municipalities for an over focus on standardized testing when federal requirements have incentivized that very focus, first with threats to label schools as failures under NCLB and then with the Obama administration pressuring states to use discredited statistical models to evaluate teachers as part of Race to the Top. The “wave of over-testing that swept this country’s schools during the last decade” is the responsibility of the federal government, and it is up to the federal government to fix it…
The Editorial Board of the Times fails to make any convincing argument that maintaining standardized testing of every child in every grade each year is necessary to address the root problems our education system faces — concentration of poverty and increased segregation in our communities. Do we need annual testing to tell us that poverty in childhood has lifelong consequences in health, education, and economic opportunity? Do we need annual testing to tell us that communities with high concentrations of minority students from impoverished households struggle on test-based measures? Do we need annual testing to tell us that income segregation means that constituencies with political power have no personal stakes in the outcomes for disenfranchised constituencies? Do we need annual testing to tell us that governors and state houses from Albany to Madison have cut state spending for education and maintain patently discriminatory state aid funding formulas?”
I would add that another issue is one of policy overreach by the U.S. Department of Education. School districts in this country were empowered to fund and to oversee education. The federal government provides no more than about ten percent of the funding for K-12 education and yet by virtue of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has forced states to implement standardized testing, Common Core Curriculum, and teacher evaluation systems. After more than a decade of these federal policies, it has become painfully clear that they do not work in most school districts. Furthermore, Washington, D.C., has come to epitomize government dysfunction as driven more by party politics, ideology, and influence peddling than what is good for its citizens. I join with those parents and educators who would prefer to minimize Washington’s involvement in the lives of children.