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Topic: New school year: doubling down on failed ed policy
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
New school year: doubling down on failed ed policy
Posted: Aug 10, 2012 6:55 PM
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From The Washington Post / The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss,
Thursday, August 9, 2012. See
New school year: doubling down on failed ed policy

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Lisa Guisbond, a policy analyst for the National
Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a Boston-based
organization that aims to improve standardized testing practices and
evaluations of students, teachers and schools.

By Lisa Guisbond

Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt credited his teammate, Jamaican
runner Yohan "The Beast," Blake, with helping him improve by beating
him in earlier races. The defeats forced Bolt to reflect on what he
needed to do differently to improve. Bolt's victory modeled a
powerful lesson: Always try to learn from your mistakes, rather than
repeat them.

As children head back to school after a decade of No Child Left
Behind, will they benefit from lessons learned from this sweeping and
expensive failure? Will schools do anything differently to avoid
NCLB's narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test and stagnant
achievement? Sadly, instead of learning from the beastly NCLB, the
Obama administration is doubling down on a failed policy.

Here are two examples of NCLB's mistakes and how coming "reforms"
will continue or intensify the damage, not correct it.

First, pressure to meet NCLB's test score targets led schools to
focus attention on the limited skills standardized tests measure and
to narrow their curriculum. These negative effects fell most severely
on classrooms serving low-income and minority children. Teachers
there were under the most pressure to raise test scores by
concentrating on narrow test preparation instead of providing a rich
and engaging curriculum. Many districts administered large numbers of
additional tests supposedly to prepare students for end-of-year
exams. Despite the focus on tested subjects, results on the National
Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showed NCLB failed to
significantly increase academic performance or narrow achievement

Sadly, the next wave of so-called "reforms," such as the Common Core
State Standards and new exams to measure them, show little promise of
reversing these failures. Rather, they threaten to increase time and
other resources spent on testing instead of unleashing teachers' and
students' creative potential.

More grades will be tested, and students will face multiple tests
during the year. These "new, improved" tests promise to do a better
job of measuring "critical thinking" and other higher-order learning.
However, grant applications from the two multi-state testing
consortia reveal that the bulk of the testing will be multiple-choice
and short answer. Examples of possible test questions are, at best,
marginally superior to current exams. Already, major publishers, such
as Pearson, are pasting new covers on the same old products and
marketing them as "Common Core."

Second, NCLB demonstrated many ways that high-stakes standardized
testing damages and corrupts education. In addition to narrowing
curriculum and encouraging teaching to the test, the NCLB era has
produced waves of cheating. In the past four years alone, there have
been confirmed reports of cheating in 36 states and the District of
Columbia. Teaching to state tests has caused score inflation,
resulting in misleading results that are not reflected on other
measures of learning. Struggling students have been pushed out of
school to raise the test score bottom line, with far too many youth
entering the prison pipeline. School climate has suffered as fear of
failure is passed down from administrators to teachers to students.
Many good teachers have chosen to leave rather than comply with
drill-and-kill requirements and corrupt their students' education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledges that NCLB narrowed
curriculum and caused teaching to the test. However, his "reforms"
don't address the underlying problems. Instead, Duncan's NCLB waiver
scheme and the Race to the Top programs raise the stakes even higher
by requiring states to link teacher evaluations to student test
results. If teachers were not already under tremendous pressure to
boost scores, they will be now with their jobs on the line.

Author and lecturer Sir Ken Robinson often speaks about the
importance of making mistakes, to learn from them and try again.[See ] He says educational standardization
and pressure for conformity stunt our children's growth by teaching
them to fear and avoid mistakes. "Conformity and standardization and
sitting still and doing multiple-choice questions and being tested at
the end - these features of education are inimical to the kind of
original thinking and confident imaginations that underpin real
innovation," Robinson says. What we need, he adds, is not "reform"
but "revolution."

To unleash our children's potential, we need to unleash the full
capacity of teachers and schools. That means acknowledging the
mistakes of NCLB, learning from them and fundamentally changing
course. People across the nation understand that need, as shown by
strong support for the national and Texas resolutions on high-stakes

Too few policymakers have learned the lesson, so we must educate or
replace them. Then parents can look forward to our children returning
to schools that stir their imaginations and creativity.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: President Obama and Arne Duncan (AP)
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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