NCLB Results: Improving Education or Teaching to the Test?

The public school system has a hard job. They have to cater to thousands of students, treat each as individuals and yet somehow find a way to streamline the process so that it’s most effective for everyone.

With the 5th Anniversary, NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is definitely on top of all the education headlines. The president has made clear that reauthorizing the act is a priority of his administration. Secretary Spellings, in her recent speech to educators and business leaders points to increased test scores to prove that NCLB is working. “The truth is,” she says, “that NCLB helps kids by measuring their progress and holding schools accountable for helping them improve.”

The Problem with Accountability

The main problem with NCLB is that the aforementioned accountability comes in the form of standardized testing. The problem with using standardized testing as a means to hold schools accountable is that teacher’s get nervous when their job is on the line and they start teaching to the test. This is a cycle. . .if teachers are teaching to the test, you can no longer say that NCLB is helping improve schools by providing accountability. Kids may do better on tests, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better educated!

Additional Indicators of School Performance?

PTA believes there are additional indicators that help assess school performance, like equity of resources, physical infrastructure, class size, instructional methods, and parent involvement.

While I certainly agree that standardized testing is not always the best indicator of school performance, I also have to question the PTA’s statement. For sure, the things they have mentioned are marks of a good school and good school district. Small class sizes, effective instructional methods (you can read that as staff development), and getting parents involved all will help achieve NCLB’s goals. What they won’t do however, is prove that their students are performing at a minimal level in math and reading. They are marks of a good school, but not necessarily marks of an improved education.

A Solution

It seems to me that the solution would lie in managerial technique. What I mean is this: for schools that are performing below acceptable standards, educators need to take a closer look at the school rather than implementing random consequences. In some schools, they need to increase parent involvement. In some schools, they need smaller class sizes. In some schools, they need better facilities and yes, there are even students in America who don’t have text books.

What should not be done is the trickle down effect of blaming teachers. I really believe that if you take the pressure off of teachers whose students perform poorly, then teachers will resume what they love: teaching. If you pay better attention to the “why” behind a school’s poor performance, you’re likely to get a better result. The problem with NCLB now is that it assumes the “why” is always the same and addresses it in the same way.

Of course the challenge is to give those schools the individualized attention that they need to improve. That is much easier said than done.

Related Articles:

The No Child Left Behind Act and Special Education

The No Child Left Behind Law Expires in One Year: What’s Next?

NEA President Requests No Child Left Behind Reform

No Child Left Behind Hoax: Now Coming to An Email Near You