Friday, June 29, 2007

School Committee writes against NCLB

The Hampshire Gazette writes that the school committee of Amherst voted unanimously in support of a letter recommending changes in No Child Left Behind, to be sent to Massachusetts' senior Senator Kennedy.

I excerpt below the quotes of committee members for those who do not have a Gazettenet subscription.

Some of the recommendation in the letter include: the elimination of annual yearly progress goals for schools, calling them "arbitrary" and "unrealistic"; cutting back on the amount of testing and making the remaining testing more diverse with less of an emphasis on "high-stakes" testing; and changing the standards by which English Language Learners and students with disabilities are assessed, which the LAC called "inequitable."

Luschen said that since standards for testing vary from state to state, some states are able to show improvement in their yearly progress, but their students actually perform more poorly on national tests because their state tests have become less difficult to boost yearly progress results.

"One test is not a good indicator of someone's achievement," Luschen said.

Committee Vice Chairman Andy Churchill agreed that there was too much testing being conducted and said that fifth-grade students in Massachusetts spend four weeks of the school year taking standardized tests.

Churchill said that the data provided by those tests doesn't do anything to improve the instruction those students are receiving, because it becomes available at the end of the year after the students are moving on to sixth-grade.

Churchill said it was "autopsy data rather than biopsy data." Testing should "work for instruction, not get in the way of it," Churchill said.

The letter also recommends providing more local control in regards to school improvements rather than mandates coming from the federal level who don't have direct contact with the schools.

Committee member Michael Hussin recommended emphasizing the need for adequate funding for any mandates that are part of NCLB for the law to have any chance of success.

Luschen and Wenk said they hope to have a final copy of the letter sent to Kennedy by the end of the week.

Though the letter is a bit of a committee laundry list, I concur with most of the themes. Below, some of my thoughs. My studies of the arbitrary and unrealistic nature of AYP can be found else on this blog.

Why should the state require 5th graders to spend four weeks taking tests for state and federal mandates, rather than testing at only one or two subjects per grade except in 10th grade? If you're concerned that limited testing might encourage schools to cheat the testing schedule, assign the tested subject randomly to different schools. And why don't parents get test results within a month after their kids are tested, so the testing can do some good for individual kids, rather than getting results six months after the tests are taken?

And why should Washington and Beacon Hill be expected to have a better idea about how to improve individual school systems than local school committees? The current regulations take already limited control over schools away from school committees, and push it up the bureaucratic hierarchy.

Mass Board of Ed revised some of their restructuring regulations last spring to more or less automate restructuring choices - I suspect in part because of the overwhelming workload they anticipated facing, when several hundred schools at a time face final sanctions. But reading the board notes regarding Holyoke's schools gives me little new confidence that the Board of Ed has a clue how to fix schools one at a time, much less on a commodity outsourcing basis. They've been working for years on Holyoke; but since AYP is an extraordinarly poor measure of progress, board members couldn't even get a sense whether their prescriptions have done any good. Some want to fire management; others think management has done a good job and is respected in the community. Some think the consulting firm that has been guiding Holyoke is poorly matched to the city, though no supporting evidence was given.

Can you imagine the chaos if the Board of Ed is charged with restructuring 75% of the schools in the Massachussets at the same time, if they can't even do the job on one district at a time?

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Blogger dweir said...

And why should Washington and Beacon Hill be expected to have a better idea about how to improve individual school systems than local school committees?

It really isn't about who has the better ideas. It's about who is paying the bills. Don't want to take the tests? Don't take the money. Why wouldn't we want the government to put in some accountability standards for the use of federal dollars?

January 25, 2008  

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