Thursday, February 08, 2007

Education about much more than test scores

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Education about much more than test scores
Timothy Leonard
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is up for renewal this year in the Congress. This may be an opportunity to genuinely help the children of the poor and disadvantaged in this country, yet when I hear U.S. senators and representatives from both parties talk about the need for school districts "to raise scores," it is difficult to be hopeful. Education is simply not about scores anymore than losing weight is about scales.

As a result of NCLB, school districts, especially those with high numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, focus intensely on achievement test scores and benchmark tests - tests which often possess items which are incorrect, or ask only for recognition of the so-called right answer.

In addition, these tests are built upon standards which have been written by persons far removed from the actual experience of the teachers and students engaged in the testing process.

Most teachers know that standards are negotiated every day between themselves and their students who will learn only what they choose to learn. The trick is to encourage them to learn far beyond what they originally intended. Turning that trick takes knowledge, persistence, ingenuity, patience, trust, active listening, toughness, kindness, humor, and a willingness to engage students in active learning. Teachers are doing this every day throughout our region, yet the only thing that seems to matter to politicians and bureaucrats are the scores.

Scores are important. But they must be viewed in the context of what teachers know about what is happening in their classrooms. Under the current regime, what is happening in the classroom, if viewed at all, is viewed in the context of the scores. This is nuts. It's like a parent saying, "If you think the baby is cute, you should see the pictures" - except in this case all you see is a number.

The renewal of NCLB needs to shift its intense focus away from test scores to the care, support and encouragement of teachers. This means more money for salaries, staff development, and programs to make sure teachers develop the skills that research tells us it takes to engage students to choose to become knowledgeable in the arts and sciences as well as reading and mathematics, and to become responsible citizens.

Timothy Leonard of Hyde Park is an adjunct professor at Xavier University working with teachers in Southwestern Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.

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