Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tests compare one crop of children to those that precede them instead of tracking each child's progress

Photo by Sam Hodgson: Birney Elementary School teacher Tom O'Malley leads a discussion with his class on Friday.

San Diego Schools' New Testing Idea: No Child Left Unmeasured

January 24, 2010
Voice of San Diego

Tom O'Malley knew that the fourth grade classes at Birney Elementary had been a success -- but the numbers said it had failed.

O'Malley said two years ago, he and a fellow teacher got a crop of children who were badly behind. They helped the students improve, making even bigger gains than the last classes they taught. But because the kids didn't do as well as the earlier class, who came in ahead and scored higher, test scores seemed to drop.

"I felt like a failure as a teacher," O'Malley said, shaking his head. "I'm not one of these teachers who are scared to be held accountable. I just want to be held accountable for what I actually do."

His story underscores a nagging problem with test scores, especially under No Child Left Behind: Schools are gauged by how well they do from year to year, but nobody is comparing the same children. When school officials say that fourth grade math scores sunk or soared, they really mean that one class of third graders -- the class from last year -- did well or poorly compared to the next class of third graders.

That might not be a big deal if all classes are alike. But as O'Malley knows, that just isn't the case. And because No Child Left Behind also pressures schools to push children over a set bar, it overlooks the gains of children who still fall below that bar or are already far above it.

Researchers have found that the tests perversely push schools to focus chiefly on the kids who are just shy of that mark and ignore others, such as gifted children. And it can reward schools simply for luring in children who are already successful...

See related story: Test Scores Fall Short of Federal Standard

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