March 6, 2007

Bubble-gate

Under NCLB states were supposed to develop challenging academic standards and create assessment devices aligned to those standards. The intention was that schools would then teach the material set forth in the academic standards in whatever way they saw fit. Afterwards, the assessments would then be employed to measure whether the students who had been taught had actually learned the material covered by the standards. In short, the assessments determined whether the teaching was effective.

In order to comply with NCLB, most schools would have to improve their teaching outcomes or they would eventually fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP).

Many schools have responded to NCLB by engaging in activities that appear to be aimed at raising student outcomes in the short term without regard to their long term consequences. For example, the WaPo worked itself up into a lather recently when it lamented the phenomenon of schools concentrating resources on the "bubble kids," kids on the cusp of passing the assessments, by giving them intense test prep sessions.

"We're not talking about instruction," said Bonnie Cullison, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, who is investigating teacher concerns at the school. "We're talking about a narrow set of skills that is really about passing a test."

Few doubt that the test prep is largely a waste a time. But who's kidding who. The reason why all the test prep is going on is because the schools aren't confident that the "instruction" was working in the first place.

But none of that matters anyway. Under NCLB, the chickens of bad instructions will eventually come home to roost sooner or later. A school only has so many hours of instructional time to teach. It either makes productive use of that time or it doesn't.

Extensive test prep seems like a waste of time to me, but lots of what most schools do is a waste of time.

Teaching kids that reading is a psycholinguistic guessing game--that's a waste of time. A big waste of time.

Teaching kids by playing hide the instructional ball--that's a waste of time too.

So is most everything that gets peddled as instruction on the elementary level.

I find it difficult to get worked up over the misuse of test prep when the only thing being lost is time spent misteaching other material.

In the real world, bad practices get kicked to the curb all the time. This is a feature, not a bug, of any accountability system. The only question is whether NCLB is robust enough to work as a decent accountability system. I don't believe that it is.

2 comments:

Parentalcation said...

Test taking stratagies 101.

1. Narrow down the possible choices as much as possible.

2. Go with your first choice.

3. Do the easy ones first, and then come back to the hard ones.

Anything else is a waste of effort.

allen said...

Many schools have responded to NCLB by engaging in activities that appear to be aimed at raising student outcomes in the short term without regard to their long term consequences.

No!

"We're talking about a narrow set of skills that is really about passing a test."

Which means the kids, parents and public will have something to show for all that time and money. We'll all know that for a little while at least the kids knew enough to pass a test. That's more then we knew previous to the enactment of NCLB.

The only question is whether NCLB is robust enough to work as a decent accountability system. I don't believe that it is.

Oh God, of course it isn't a decent accountability system. But the choice on the table was between no accountability system and a federal accountability system.

Given the record of federal efficiency and responsiveness it's a narrower choice then it might at first seem. But since knowledge, even imperfect knowledge, is better then ignorance, the choice is inevitable.

But NCLB is more then an accountability system. It's a political milestone that'll be difficult to ignore.

NCLB realizes the unmet assumption that somewhere, somehow there's got to be a way to determine whether junior's getting a decent education. NCLB establishes as an entitlement the accessibility of information necessary to determine whether a school is good or bad.