State rethinks NCLB testing policy
By Josh O’Gorman
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | August 22,2014
The State Board of Education is calling on Congress to rethink the testing policies of No Child Left Behind.
The board’s statement, approved at its most recent meeting, calls on Congress and the Obama administration to amend the No Child Left Behind Act “to reduce testing mandates.”
The statement comes on the heels of a letter issued earlier this month to Vermont’s parents and caregivers by state Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, who said the “broken NCLB policy” has resulted in nearly every school in the state being identified as low performing.
The board’s statement is the result of several months of study and discussion, said member William Mathis.
“The motivating force behind the statement is that there is too much testing,” Mathis said. “Teachers are complaining about it. Parents are complaining about it. We’re just running from one test to the next. It’s tedious, and it’s not the best use of taxpayers’ money.”
Federal statute requires the standardized testing of students in grades three through eight, and again in high school. Failure to implement a standardized test at the state level can place its federal education funding in jeopardy.
For many years, Vermont has used the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, and will soon change to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC. The statement acknowledges “the NECAP, and soon, the SBAC, can tell us something about how students are doing in a limited set of narrowly defined subjects overall, as measured in a given time.”
However, the tests don’t measure the education quality standards adopted by the State Board of Education, which call for student proficiency across a broader range of subject matter than the reading, math and science measured by standardized tests. State standards also call for proficiency in “global citizenship, physical and health education and wellness, artistic expression and transferable 21st century skills.”
“As teachers prepare students for the test, these other skills are being squeezed out,” Mathis said.
The statement takes a stand against using test scores as a means to measure the performance of teachers and principals.
“Although the federal government is encouraging states to use scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate,” the statement reads.
The No Child Left Behind Act, which was enacted in 2001, calls for gradual improvement every year. In 2014, the federal policy requires every student in a school to be considered proficient by reaching what the statement calls “subjectively determined cut-off scores.”
If a single student fails to reach proficiency, the entire school is considered low performing. However, a state can receive an exemption from this policy if it allows the evaluation of educators based on test scores, something Mathis called “dreadful” and “morally indefensible.”
“It’s a strong-arm tactic to make schools and states use test scores to evaluate teachers,” Mathis said.
Vermont is one of a handful of states that did not apply for the waiver.
The statement not only calls on the federal government to reduce testing requirements; it also calls on the Agency of Education to develop multiple forms of assessment that “more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning.”