What teachers want from ESEA reauthorization—part 1 of 6

At a major forum during its 2011 Annual Convention, The American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) asked me: What do teachers want from ESEA reauthorization? Since I only had five minutes, I confined my remarks to the six items that have come up most consistently in discussions with other leading teachers from around the nation. I’ll share them in this brief mini-series of blogs.

We want: A moratorium on the misuse of standardized testing and associated penalties until the next generation assessments are ready to go to scale. Though it had some good intentions, NCLB has been used to dilute curriculum, manacle teachers, and humiliate students—exactly the opposite of what education should be. Much of this collateral damage could have been avoided had we not gone down the path of distrusting teachers and uncritically accepting quick and cheap ways of determining students’ learning and teachers’ work.

The Administration, and just about everyone else who understands testing and assessment, acknowledges that the standardized achievement tests currently available were not designed to give the information needed for the life-changing decisions that are being based upon them. Nevertheless, we continue not only to use them but to expand their misuse, pushing states and districts to build financially and emotionally expensive accountability systems upon them.

Across the country, higher education institutions and employers are confirming this fact: As state testing programs have expanded, actual student academic performance has correspondingly declined. Despite passing the gauntlet of standardized tests, increasing numbers of public school graduates need more remediation to handle college-level work since NCLB than before its implementation.

The Department of Education, through its Race to the Top initiative is supporting two major state-level consortia as they work to develop the next generation of student assessments. The logical and humane course of action would be at the very least while those assessments are being developed, to put the sanctions associated with current test results on hold, and reduce the frequency of testing (especially during these times of economic distress) to random sampling of grades and students.

As the great Christian leader, John Wesley asserted, we “should do all the good we can, and do no harm.”

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