NCLB Defended

There are various arguments to be made against No Child Left Behind, some valid, some less so. Mary Cohen responds in an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle:

READER VIEW: NO CHILD LAW IS WORKING (May 4)

When I read The Eagle editorial “Fix it: No Child must change” (April 16 Opinion), I was reminded of the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

It has been five years since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed. We now have a track record to go by, and it’s a good one. Our students have made strong academic progress, particularly in the early grades. Reading and math scores are at all-time highs in several categories, and achievement gaps are finally beginning to close. In Kansas, the number of fifth-graders becoming proficient in reading rose 10 percentage points in just two years (2002-04), while fourth-grader proficiency in math improved by 13 percentage points.

True, no law is perfect. We are working with Congress and the states to make constructive changes to the law. New flexibilities have been added, such as the use of “growth models” and modified assessments for students with severe cognitive disabilities. But the core principle of annual student assessments must not change. Assessments are the key to accountability. Without them, teachers will not have the data they need to see the problem and solve it. And more kids will fall through the cracks.

This debate is not new.

Kansas’ initial effort to strengthen its accountability was called “Quality Performance Accreditation.” When QPA was passed, there were similar warnings of loss of local control, “teaching to the test” and lack of creativity. Yet after several years, most educators couldn’t imagine operating without QPA because it caused the schools and teachers to focus on what was expected of their students.

The same is true of the No Child Left Behind law.

This is not the time to turn our backs on the progress we have made. If our nation is to remain competitive, we must continually push for higher standards and accountability. Our competitors across the globe certainly are not looking for ways to “opt out” of their education systems. And neither should we.

MARY COHEN
Regional representative
U.S. Department of Education
Kansas City, Mo.

Growth models could be a promising addition to the law.

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Comments

  • G. Gubbins  On May 30, 2007 at 3:23 am

    If assessments are the key to accountability, who or what is being held accountable, and to what measure? If higher test scores are the ultimate goal of our learning institutions, then let’s just dumb down the test. (Oh, wait…)
    I would hope that the goal of schools would be to create creative and critical thinkers and decision makers who can make positive contributions. Using standardized test scores to coerce schools into narrowing curriculum so that it can be more easily measured in the name of accountability has the opposite affect. I would rather we focus on lowering dropout rates and reducing factors that cause children to disengage from learning (such as pressure to perform on tests) than to raise scores on unreliable tests that measure what matters least.

    The call for a never-ending push for higher standards and accountability (which is theoretically impossible) in order for “us” to best our competitors implies that we want children in other countries to do more poorly than ours. Is that more important than helping students to become caring thinking citizens? I’m sorry, I don’t see how No Child Left Behind is “working” at all.

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