I have considered and rejected a number of candidates for this month’s “Dim Bulb” award including the usual suspects. I was waiting for a jaw-dropping example of stupidity or illogical thinking.
At the last minute, Idaho State Senator John Goedde came through by claiming that, in order to remain true to the idea of “accountability,” the Idaho State Department of Education ought to impose sanctions on those Idaho schools who failed to meet annual progress based upon what Goedde concedes is an INVALID test.
A little background is needed here for those of you who have not kept up with the on-going fiasco know as “No Child Left Behind.” The punitive NCLB legislation is the centerpiece of Bush’s education program. It affects nearly every U.S. public school and requires all students be performing on grade level by 2014. Critics have pointed out the folly of the program’s reliance on high stakes testing and some states have even flirted with abandoning the system, which would mean giving up federal funding.
Although we can laugh at the absurd notion that educational reform will take place solely by testing, Republican business types like Goedde are strong supporters of the legislation because it claims to hold schools accountable for student learning
Have there been increases in student achievement in the years NCLB has been in effect? Yes, it appears there have been modest gains nationwide. I say “appears” because there has been only one study that has looked specifically at this question- a June 2007 Center on Education Policy (CEP) study titled “Has Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind?”
It should be pointed out that the authors of the study warned that “it is difficult to say whether or how much the No Child Left Behind law is driving the achievement gains.” Moreover, the study cautioned readers that its comparisons between pre- and post-NCLB data — available for only 13 states — should be treated as “suggestive.”
DIFFICULTY OF ATTRIBUTING CHANGES TO NCLB
This report focuses on whether student achievement has improved since the enactment of NCLB. It is very difficult to determine whether students are learning more because of NCLB. Isolating the cause-and-effect relationship of any education policy is often impracticable. With a policy as far-reaching as NCLB, it becomes nearly impossible when states, districts, and schools are simultaneously implementing so many different yet interconnected policies and programs. If student achievement has risen since NCLB took effect, is this due to NCLB, or to state or local reforms implemented at roughly the same time, or to both? If both, how much of the improvement is attributable to state or local policies and how much to federal policies? Using multiple methods of analyzing achievement will not tease out the causes of gains or declines.
In a similar vein, this study does not take a position on how well specific components of NCLB are working or whether the requirements in the current law are the most effective means to raise achievement and close test score gaps.
Was Idaho one of those 13 states with data that allowed comparison between pre and post NCLB student achievement? No, because Idaho has invalid iSAT exams that do not measure Idaho’s educational standards or the curriculum that teachers are expected to teach.
Who is to blame for Idaho’s invalid examinations? As Bill Roberts of the Idaho Statesman points out:
Tests and standards used over the past several years were approved by the State Board in 1999 and early in this decade. The system was revised in 2007. Tom Luna, state schools superintendent, played an integral role in development of both the first standards and the exams, although he was not superintendent or a State Board member at the time.
Despite concerns from critics, including then state schools Superintendent Marilyn Howard, the board moved ahead with both testing and standards. The tests and standards were later found lacking in two independent reports in about 2005.
As a result of pressure from the Idaho School Superintendents Association, Mike Rush, State Board executive director, wrote the feds asking to reset the No Child Left Behind clock for Idaho beginning with spring 2007 statewide exam results, after the state made improvements to its testing system.
The board wants a “do-over” for hundreds of Idaho public schools facing NCLB sanctions such as forcing them to provide outside tutoring or allow children to go to schools that are more successful than the ones they attend. This last sanction is particularly absurd in small Idaho communities where there are no alternatives to the local public school.
The board has asked the U.S. Department of Education to wipe away the student progress measurements between 2002 and 2006 under No Child Left Behind on which the sanctions are based. In its place, the board wants the feds to restart the No Child Left Behind clock, which sets the deadline for schools to meet minimum proficiency standards.
“It is unreasonable to label schools and districts based on student achievement data that was measured with an invalid and unreliable tool,” Rush wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education dated Tuesday. “How can you say that a school didn’t make progress if your initial measurement was not valid?” Rush said.
But John Goedde, state Senate Education Committee chair, opposes a do-over because it defeats the purpose of accountability.
The original (exam) was not a valid test, yet that test was commissioned by the State Board of Education to meet federal standards,” he said. “Our State Board made another mistake, which is a tragedy. “But to ask to restart the accountability process due to that error seems to defeat the concept of accountability altogether.”
Merriam-Webster defines accountability as: “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Whose actions have led to this “mistake.” The list is quite long and includes Luna, the State Board, the Idaho Legislature, the Senate Education Committee and its chair, John Goedde. It does not, however, include the schools, teachers and students who will suffer the NCLB sanctions.
I am all in favor of accountability. I only hope the citizens of Idaho hold those “dim bulbs,” truly culpable for this fiasco, accountable when they go to the polls in November.