Proof yet again this week from the USA – if more proof were needed – of the flawed logic of equating improvements in test scores with improvements in literacy, or indeed of believing that literacy can be improved by legislation. According to a CNN report, one of the net effects of George W Bush’s flagship education act, No Child Left Behind, is actually a lowering rather than a raising of standards. The act states that every child must be proficient in reading and maths by 2014, and schools which fall short of that target are subject to financial penalties. What would you do in that situation, faced with cuts in what is already a meagre budget, especially if your school was in one of the more deprived areas of the country? Exactly. In almost a third of states, the test score required for “proficiency” was lowered to the point where almost every student was able to pass, and since states are responsible for setting and assessing their own tests, this was not difficult to achieve. The end result was that in one state the score required for proficiency was 70% of that required in a neighbouring state.
What I find quite depressing about this story is not just the scramble to improve test scores, the desperation of governments and politicians to be seen to be improving standards, or the schools’ attempts to massage the figures and hang on to their budgets, but the fact that the most immediate concern of the CNN reporter, assuming to speak on behalf of parents if not the nation, is to find a way of making the test scores more reliable, robust and “standardised”, rather than engaging in a genuine debate about what it actually means to be proficient in reading, why it is necessary, and how it might be achieved for all young people.
It couldn’t happen here, could it?
Read the full CNN report by Randy Kaye here