Education bill falls short

USA Today 12/11/2001


By Monty Neill

Despite the high-sounding political slogan used to promote the scheme, the test-driven education package Congress is about to pass will leave many children behind. Requiring states to test every child in grades three to eight every year in reading and math — and use the results to penalize schools that don't boost scores sufficiently — will not ensure high standards or real accountability.

The bill ignores many of the basic realities of public education in the U.S.

First, many children attend woefully underfunded schools. Congress and the Bush administration still have not provided the resources classrooms serving poor children desperately need. Instead, they expect schools to overcome the conditions of poverty or face punishment for society's failures.

Second, the bill reduces learning and accountability to test scores. Yet, no standardized exam can measure most of the things a school should provide and students should learn — academically or socially. Reducing education to what can be tested means many low-income children will be taught only "the basics." Tests will then play their historic role of sorting young people by race and class.

Even high-quality schools are likely to narrow their teaching to fit the tests. But educational quality does not come from test coaching. Instead, we need more qualified teachers who, among other skills, can use classroom-based assessments to help each child learn. An independent check of teacher assignments and student performances can provide far richer knowledge about learning than any standardized test possibly can. There is no great mystery to doing this work: It's what the best schools in the U.S. now do. But extending the opportunity to every community takes will, money and a real belief that all children can learn.

Instead of genuine reform, the federal government will now dictate to states that kids get dumbed-down test prep. To stop this disaster, parents, teachers and other concerned people must join the growing movement against high-stakes testing, persuade states to refuse to go along with the dangerous federal-testing mandate, demand adequate resources for all schools and push states to replace their own test-based programs with a system based on rich classroom assessments.

Monty Neill is executive director of The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), located in Cambridge, Mass.