Monday, October 29, 2007

No Bubble Child Left Behind

Last year, we were lucky enough to get our students into the Montessori program at a local public school. I attended first and second grade in a Montessori classroom, and I LOVED it. It encouraged me to "follow my bliss" when it came to education, and I think that practice has stuck with me ever since. The program really helps create lifelong learners.

Another reason I especially like Montessori in this day and age is its de-emphasis of standardized test scores. I don't hate all standardized tests--I think the AP tests are awesome--but I hate the WASL. I have always told my wife that the WASL encourages teachers to ignore students who will surely pass the WASL, instead focusing their attentions on the "bubble kids," those who are close to passing. A new research study shows that, not only does the new national testing environment encourage teachers to ignore the gifted, it also encourages teachers to ignore those students who are likely NOT to pass the test. It's time for No Child Left Behind to die a quiet death.

Here is the abstract of the study:
Many test-based accountability systems, including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), place great weight on the numbers of students who score at or above specified proficiency levels in various subjects. Accountability systems based on these metrics often provide incentives for teachers and principals to target children near current proficiency levels for extra attention, but these same systems provide weak incentives to devote extra attention to students who are clearly proficient already or who have little chance of becoming proficient in the near term.
We show based on fifth grade test scores from the Chicago Public Schools that both the introduction of NCLB in 2002 and the introduction of similar district level reforms in 1996 generated noteworthy increases in reading and math scores among students in the middle of the achievement distribution. Nonetheless, the least academically advantaged students in Chicago did not score higher in math or reading following the introduction of accountability, and we find only mixed evidence of score gains among the most advantaged students.

A large existing literature argues that accountability systems built around standardized tests greatly affect the amount of time that teachers devote to different topics. Our results for fifth graders in Chicago, as well as related results for sixth graders after the 1996 reform, suggest that the choice of the proficiency standard in such accountability systems determines the amount of time that teachers devote to students of different ability levels.
Find the entire study here.


Karyn said...

Why aren't our elected leaders and school administrators looking at this study and other studies like it? Why are we spending so much money on standardized tests that don't work? Why are we allowing education to follow this path?

Eric said...

Because if you speak out against this madness, it makes you look like your a bleeding-heart softie. It's the exact same reason no politician will speak out in favor of legalizing drugs. The majority of the American people are tired of the "war" on drugs, but if a pol says, "let's legalize drugs," his peers will set upon him like a pack of hungry wolves. There is no upside to being moderate and reasonable--be tough on crime, tough on drugs and tough on standards, and you can get elected over and over again.