No Child Left Untested

House, dramatically revamps the federal role in education.

Both Democrats
and Republicans have hailed the bill, which is largely modeled after Texas
standards for testing student achievement. President Bush claims
“these historic reforms will
improve our public schools by creating an environment in which every child can
learn through real accountability, unprecedented flexibility for states and
school districts, greater local control, more options for parents and more
funding for what works.” These reforms, however, are a massive
of the federal government on local schools and states’ control of education. The
No Child Left Behind Act mandates statewide testing in reading and mathematics
each year in grades 3-8 and specifies state intervention in any school where
children’s tests scores are not annually increasing.

While this bill
does provide increased flexibility in the way states spend federal education
dollars, most of the money is tied to mandated testing and in practice will
undermine local control of education by linking federal funding with
improvements in test scores.

This bill might
be labeled “No Child Left Untested.” The continued bipartisan promotion of
testing as the solution to problems in education is no more justifiable now than
it has been in the past. Rewarding and punishing by test results was discredited
in the late 1800s. Current uses of high- stakes, state mandated tests in all but
Iowa violate professional standards for test development and use.

For example, high
stakes testing programs (those with serious consequences for students, teachers,
schools, districts) use a fallible single standard and measure of student
achievement, a practice specifically condemned by the professional code of test
developers, test publishers, and educational researchers. Also, states have been
and now will be more compelled to prepare and use tests without adequate time
and attention to proper and justifiable test development. More bad practices
will be heaped on already widespread bad practices in evaluating student
achievement and schools.

The research over
the past two decades indicates test based educational reforms do not lead to
better educational policies and practices. Indeed, such testing often leads to
educationally unjust consequences and unsound practices. These include increased
drop out rates, teacher and administrator de-professionalization, loss of
curricular integrity, increased cultural insensitivity, and disproportionate
allocation of educational resources into testing programs, not into hiring
qualified teachers and providing enriching educational programs.

The winners, with
the passage of this bill, are advocates of standardized teaching and learning,
and the few large corporations that sell tests and test based curricula, not

While the
challenges of contemporary schooling are serious, the simplistic application of
tests to make decisions about children, teachers, and schools impedes student
learning. Comparisons of schools and students based on test scores promotes
teaching to the test and undoubtedly cause some teachers and principals to
cheat, understandably, in order to make their schools look good on the tests.
Punitively oriented testing programs do not improve the quality of schools;
diminish disparities in academic achievement along gender, race, or class lines;
or move the country forward in moral, social or economic terms. We support
accountability, but not test driven accountability that draws teachers and
children into a corruption of education.

The most serious
problem with testing based educational reform is its singularity of voice, its
insistence that education be evaluated and improved in a single way.   Z

E. Wayne Ross and
Sandra Mathison are professors in the College of Education and Human Development
at the University of Louisville.