Sunday, February 26, 2006
Education Ruminations III
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act
(“No Child Left Behind” or NCLB)
Teaching to the Test is Rampant
This Act, which I will refer to as the NCLB, is focused on reading, writing and mathematics skills in elementary and secondary schools. Just about everyone agrees with the basic principles of the NCLB, but there are many deficiencies in the program as implemented that have caused heartburn throughout the education and political worlds. Not everyone is happy with the extended role legislated for the federal government in education of our children, for example.
There have already been nine changes to the program, most of which were as a result of educators and unions arguing for significant alteration of the NCLB act. However, there are a number of contentious issues still before legislators at both the national and state levels. Two of them that I have witnessed or had teacher reports about are: teaching to the test (TTT); and, the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) criterion to measure student and school progress toward the goal of all students performing at a proficient level by 2014.
The TTT idea is very old. It is akin to stealing the test from the administrators and then coaching the classes on the proper answers. This seems to help the students to obtain a good grade and thus for the school to avoid further interference by the federal government. That may be a little overdrawn, but I assume they use older tests of a similar nature to the new tests forthcoming.
In my opinion, there is merit to this step, but under several conditions: the review of old tests should not take more than a class day; and, the semester of work should not be specifically tuned to test questions. It is the latter, I believe, that causes the most stir.
All through my education, teachers and professors tried to forewarn us about the nature of tests ahead of time. Not to give us rote answers, but to prepare us for studying before the test. They expressed the opinion that forewarning helps students to suppress their anxieties about the tests, and also tended to focus the students as to where they might improve their understanding of the subjects early on.
Some teachers or professors handed out previous tests with the caution that the new test would not be the same, but would address questions of a similar nature and to a similar degree. However, they didn’t teach the tests during the class year in an obvious way. In fact, they tried to be significantly different in their questions each time. This method does not disturb me at all.
The second possibility is for the teacher to run through the textbook and identify each paragraph, or each sentence or fact statement where a test question can be expected. This is teaching the test. It can be amplified further by giving the student an acceptable answer as well, which the student can recall and parrot back in the test. Finally, the teacher could in fact teach the test if he or she had the real test in hand, or at least a set of older tests to guide the lessons.
There is a fine line here between TTT and the teacher merely emphasizing the main threads and ideas of the subject as one goes along, which is entirely appropriate and correct to do.
AYP is controversial. It would seem apparent that what adequate progress is for a bright student and for a student with learning disabilities would be quite different. Even with over a decade of learning to teach the learning-disabled, there is little way to predict what the average AYP for all capabilities is going to be, I believe.
What is the average learning disability? What is the lowest? What is the highest? What data suggests that these students can succeed to become proficient with any amount of teaching and coaching? How many of this category is in the school, and should the school be penalized because they cannot raise these disability students above the proficiency level?
This whole idea seems to be backwards. We should be challenging every level of student intelligence as far as practicable, but not overly penalizing the school system for not being able to teach the unteachables.
( to be continued with some tentative ideas on what to do.)
I'll come by again.
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