To explain what’s wrong with Toxic Testing
we have to start at the beginning…
So what is NCLB (No Child Left Behind)?
NCLB was an act of Congress put in place in 2001 that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA. This included Title I, the government’s flagship aid program for disadvantaged students. NCLB supports standards-based education reform that was based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education.
The Act requires states receiving Title 1 funds to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive funding, states must give these assessments to all students at select grade levels. The Act falls short of establishing a national achievement standard, creating disparity in implementation from state-to-state. NCLB went a step further than ESEA, expanding the federal role in public education through annual testing, funding changes, teaching qualifications, annual academic progress, and even report cards.
The Act also introduced the idea of “school choice”, making it easier for parents to send their children to charter schools.
It all sounds good in theory, so what happened?
We have found that most laws related to education at the state and federal level are well intended but have consequences outside of the design of the law. This is mostly because policymakers continuously fail to bring the right people to the table when forming these policies and standards.
Gifted students have become increasing “left behind” because the NCLB act pressures schools to guarantee that the majority of its students will meet the minimum skill levels presented in the standard. Essentially we are pushing our schools to do just enough but not achieve. The law does not require programs for gifted or talented students and offers very little funding for such efforts which is a huge mistake. We are ignoring one set of students in favor of another instead of helping all students achieve and reach their potential.
The goals set by NCLB are for the most part, unrealistic. This is because the standard assumes that all children learn the same, have similar supports at home, have similar interests and aptitudes, etc. Essentially, NCLB fails to individualize learning, which has a large impact on students and teachers trying to find the right mix of individualized learning and rigorous structure in their learning environments.
The push for standardized tests is another dimension to the issues with NCLB. There have already been dozens of examples from state-to-state where schools have manipulated test results to gain incentives. Moreover, the preparation required for the tests takes critical instruction time away from classrooms. The stress on students having to take these tests is palpable and is resulting in continuously declining scores. Standardized tests also affect English as a second language (ESL) and minority students due to cultural bias which affects how students from various backgrounds interpret the terms used in test questions.
Children with disabilities are significantly affected by NCLB because the variables involved in their learning outcomes are not at all taken into consideration as the law is written today. Additionally, standardized tests for this group of learners is not at all tailored to their needs, making the results mostly useless in determining educational efficacy.
The Franklin Foundation for Innovation formally supports the opt-out movement nationwide because we feel standardized tests, in their current form, fail to assess students adequately and are therefore detrimental to our public education infrastructure.
Standardized testing is the wrong way to measure pretty much everything.
NCLB and ESEA before it, make the mistake of relying on standardized test scores to determine the efficacy of education in schools. All a standardized test can assess is how well a student can remember the facts and figures they were taught weeks before the test. More important dimensions of learning, like comprehension and application of material, are not tested in today’s standardized tests. Another issue is the way standardized tests score – 4 choices, only 1 right answer and no ability to adapt for depth. Some companies have tried to fix this issue, but their tests are just as inefficient, scoring children’s abilities against a median and saying whether or not a child’s performance is at, above, or below proficiency.
Standardized tests are also used to measure teacher quality and effectiveness which is a mistake. Teachers should be evaluated; students should be assessed. Standardized tests are the wrong marker for measuring educational effectiveness, and given their exorbitant costs, are part of a flawed system.
A new system is needed.
A system where we assess our children as individuals, with the goal of helping parents and educators build actionable plans for improving educational outcomes is the right approach. A return of the standards-based peer-led evaluation system for our educators is the fairest and most productive way to evaluate teacher performance as it relates to instructional proficiency. With all of the factors that can affect a child’s learning, blaming teachers for student test scores makes little sense.
What makes this a social problem?
NCLB, ESEA and any re-writes using the same antiquated models and philosophy will result in the continued decline of our public schools. National education policy needs to be written from scratch taking modern philosophies from actual practitioners and parent into account. Each state should re-evaluate its education policy to ensure all children receive an education that is tailored for their success. Our education system should position education as the great equalizer capable of enabling children to overcome their circumstances. A system where children are left behind, is a system where generations are left out of their fair share of opportunity.
Assessments need to change to a model made more adaptive and less focused on right vs. wrong, more focused on the way the student came to the answer, and the use of that data to improve each individual child’s learning outcomes.
Evaluations for teachers need to take the delivery of curriculum and classroom engagement into effect. The current system not only incorrectly penalizes good teachers for learning factors out of their control, but places a stigma on becoming a public school teacher in the first place. Fewer college students interested in becoming teachers will mean a more condensed workforce where wealthier schools will get the first access to talent, leaving poorer districts in a rut they will find it impossible to get out of, further extending the already massive achievement gap, especially in areas where minorities account for the larger portion of the learning population.
So Here’s what we’re going to do about it:
1Build a coalition of educators and parents in every state to create new conversations with policymakers around education policy. These state councils will help develop the dialogue and data necessary to help change narratives at the state level. Combined with our grassroots affiliates, we will change the way leaders think, which should change the way they legislate.
2Continue to encourage parents to opt-out. We believe the opt-out movement is critical to putting an end to standardized testing once and for all. Parents have the right to take control over their children’s educations, and opting-out of toxic testing is the right first step in taking back our public schools.