"Meritocracy's Crooked Yardstick"

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).

Statement of FairTest in Reaction to Pres. Bush Signing "Leave No Child Behind Act"

for further information:
Monty Neill (857) 350-8207
Bob Schaeffer (941) 395-6773

for immediate release January 7, 2002

Minimum Revisions Needed to Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Testing and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Provisions


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:

Feasibility of the Goal of all Students Reaching "Proficient" on State Tests

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).

Major Problems with Annual Testing, Adequate Yearly Progress, and Proposed Sanctions in the ESEA Reauthorization

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:

Issues and Arguments on Bush Testing Plan

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.

Impact of ESEA on Massachusetts

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.)

Initial FairTest Analysis of ESEA

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.

Summary of the New Elementary and Secondary Education Act

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.

ESEA Draft Rules

Update: Department of Education regulations on testing have been published. They are at http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2002-3/070502a.html
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