Education Reform in Massachusetts began with high hopes. As educators, parents, and citizens, we believe those hopes have been eroded by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests. These tests have disrupted our classrooms and schools and diverted valuable resources away from efforts that put decision making more appropriately in the hands of local communities, schools, and teachers.
The following excerpt is from the opening chapter of STANDARDIZED MINDS: THE HIGH PRICE OF AMERICA'S TESTING CULTURE AND WHAT WE CAN DO TO CHANGE IT by Peter Sacks. (Perseus Books, Cambridge, Mass., February 2000).
Revisions are needed to the ESEA legislation now in Conference Committee in order to help strengthen the effort to improve schools' capacity to educate all children well by avoiding the dangers of too much testing, unrealistic adequate yearly progress mandates, and unfeasible "corrections" and sanctions. FairTest recommends that the Conference Committee adopt the following changes:
The level "proficient" varies substantially from state to state, depending on the difficulty of the test and how/where the state set its cutoff point for "proficient." Massachusetts, for example, is quite stringent, so that only 20% of tenth graders are labeled "proficient," though MA consistently scores among the top states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The ESEA reauthorization proposals adopted by the U.S. House and Senate and now in Conference Committee contain serious problems that make the plans unfeasible and potentially harmful to efforts to improve public schools. The major problems include:
Essential test-related elements of Bush plan: The proposals will be part of the reauthorization of ESEA (which includes Title I). States required to test all students in grades 3-8 in reading and math to measure students and schools, with reporting on progress for “disadvantaged” as well as all students. Sanctions for failure to improve include vouchers. Significant progress on state tests yields rewards for schools, with National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to be the measure of state progress.
The new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will put all schools whose students have not made "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) on state assessments into a "needs improvement" category and then if AYP is still not met enact a series of sanctions that can culminate in firing staff, state takeover, turning it over to private management, or making it a charter. (For details, see materials here as well as selected articles in FairTest Examiner.)
FairTest staff have studied the legislation ("No Child Left Behind Act") and consulted with additional sources to prepare the following analysis of the testing and accountability provisions. The Act is very detailed and long, and we apologize for any errors in this summary and analysis. We will amend this document to correct any errors brought to our attention.
The key testing and accountability provisions of the new, 1000-plus page Elementary and Secondary Education Act ("No Child Left Behind Act") are in Title I, the part of the Act historically intended to improve education for "disadvantaged" children.