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NCLB Ignores Basic Facts
Everyone agrees children deserve teachers who are dedicated, enthusiastic and skilled. Everyone also agrees that testing and evaluation are reasonable means to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, the No Child Left Behind Act does not require that states demonstrate a correlation between these two near-universally accepted goals -- it just requires tests.
The act also ignores the inescapable fact that the U.S. education system is broken and the adoption of standardized tests cannot fix it. Although these tests are a cheap and superficial solution to parents' concerns, they do not address systemic problems. Serious efforts are needed to make the profession more attractive to talented people, improve teacher education and training, and create fair and effective evaluation systems.
Currently, different states use different tests or combinations of tests to certify teachers. Many states, however, never evaluate performance in the classroom. Instead, they administer tests before the individual begins teaching and never confirm whether that individual became an effective teacher.
To ensure high-quality teachers, meaningful evaluation programs assessing teacher effectiveness can no longer be dismissed as too difficult to administer or too expensive. These programs exist. For example, Connecticut teachers are evaluated against the state's professional teaching standards. Teachers are tested on academic skills while in college, their teaching areas and pedagogy before teaching and their effectiveness after they start teaching. In their first year, they are provided with mentors, school-based support and professional development workshops. In their second year, school support is available, and they submit teaching portfolios for evaluation.
By contrast, standardized tests used by other states, particularly those assessing ''general knowledge,'' negatively affect minority teachers while doing little more than evaluating a teacher's fluency in majority culture. We are not aware of studies demonstrating that these tests predict whether individuals will be effective teachers.
In a pluralistic society, we cannot accept certification systems that eliminate those who show children the virtue of living in a land rich in varied cultures. Our schools and states are failing this most important test.
Tests are superficial solution
May 13, 2003
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