The notion that a child, a classroom or an entire school could be judged by the results of a standardized test finally seems to be discredited. From our point of view, this era in education will pass none too soon.
The Obama administration is moving to allow states greater flexibility in the implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
This 2002 legislation, whose stated goal certainly was noble, has done little to help students. Rather, it has intensified modern education's obsession with standardized tests. It has forced teachers to sacrifice a well-rounded and creative education in favor of drilling students on test-related subject matter. It has wrongly labeled fine schools as failures. And it has undermined people's confidence in public education.
Good idea, poorly implemented
Despite its obvious flaws, the No Child Left Behind law - approved by both Democrats and Republicans at the time - has accomplished one thing: It has focused attention on those students most at risk: ethnic and racial minorities, students whose first language isn't English and students who have disabilities. And, for that, former President George W. Bush deserves credit.
The law set expectations that all students will do well at school - and that was a worthy objective, even if those expectations were inherently unobtainable. If the No Child Left Behind act had continued on its path of implementation, every public school in the nation would have been required to have 100 percent of its students meeting high standards. That's clearly impossible even in the best of schools, as some students, particularly those who are learning English or dealing with developmental disabilities, simply lack the capacity for high academic achievement.
That's where the tyranny of No Child Left Behind was felt. If even one child in a subgroup failed to meet the standards, a school could fall short of what has been known as 'adequate yearly progress.' Schools that repeatedly failed to meet this standard were subject to sanctions that diverted their resources away from actually educating children.
Most people who are familiar with how this federal pressure has affected schools can see that it has had unfortunate consequences. Teachers, acting out of fear, have drilled their students for weeks at a time on the content that would be included on standardized tests - to the detriment of a richer education that included exploration of topics not tested.
Flexibility helps schools
In response to the changing federal rules, the Oregon Department of Education is preparing to ask for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. Among other things, the state will have to show that it is adopting more challenging curriculum standards and that it will evaluate teacher performance based on multiple factors - not just test scores.
This movement away from an over-reliance on standardized tests will be a positive pendulum shift for schools. The true benchmark of an educator's effectiveness is not how well students perform on a single test, with little regard for their backgrounds or innate abilities.
Rather, an individual child's progress must be measured throughout the course of his or her school career. This standard, which takes into account the differences of each child and each community, is much more difficult to measure, but it also is much more meaningful.