Anne Hyslop of the New America Foundation has written a compelling piece about the supposed test-and-punish legacy of No Child Left Behind. Nearly 15 years on from that piece of legislation, which many prominent public school advocates such as Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University and AFT President Randi Weingarten have lampooned for its punitive measures for underperforming schools and its teach-to-the-test tendencies, Hyslop argues convincingly that the accountability model of NCLB has never really materialized. (In few cases where it has been allowed to take force, improvements have been made, especially for low-performing students and in math.)
Because of the Obama Administration’s waivers, states have even more flexibility and time before accountability measures are implemented. For example:
High stakes [for teacher evaluations] don’t have to enter the picture until Spring 2017—after Arne Duncan hands over the keys to the next Secretary of Education. Teachers could get two ratings and two rounds of “support and improvement” before any stakes are involved (and even then, federal leverage is limited in terms of how much evaluations must inform personnel decisions). And don’t forget, the Department has also let states apply for an extra year to use evaluations to “inform” those decisions. That delays full implementation until as late as Spring 2018. Simply, the debate over whether there should be consequences for teachers during the transition to new assessments often obscures the fact that a no-stakes period is already standard federal policy. And now that the Department is relaxing its review process for extending the waivers, they could be opening the door to even more delays—a move that would be welcomed by many, including Darling-Hammond and Weingarten.
Hyslop sums up the situation bluntly:
In short, if educators or local officials feel like today’s accountability systems “test and punish” them, it’s got much more to do with their responses to federal accountability, not the policy itself. In the transition to new standards and tests, states have tried to be sensible and already halted many of the consequences. If NCLB is a zombie, then “test-and-punish” accountability is a ghost: you might think you see it, and you might be afraid of it, but turn on the light, and you’ll find it just isn’t there.
Hyslop concludes her hard-hitting article with a call for states and districts to make hard choices to actually make improvements:
It may not be as easy to implement, or as cheap, but there are alternatives that don’t sacrifice high-quality, rich instruction at the altar of test-based accountability. These alternatives may require building professional capacity, training teachers and leaders differently, and providing new resources and time… And making these choices more popular will require tackling education challenges—often beyond the scope of accountability policy—head-on, from teacher preparation to school leadership.
For more information, please visit: http://www.edcentral.org/test-punish-state-mind-state-reality/