NCLB Comments Part 3 High Stakes & Standardized testing and the NCLB Waivers

Dear Senator Alexander and the Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:

In the last week, during what will be historically known at the “Great Awakening to Standardized Testing” I have had conversation after conversation with parents about standardized testing.  The most difficult one was explaining to a military wife that standardized tests use cut scores that are set by politicians or bureaucrats in order to serve the current political agenda.  This is a woman whose husband served tours in Iraq, a family that believes America is the greatest country on Earth.  She had done her own research, and came to me saying “This must be wrong, I must have missed something.  The tests are based on scores that we can see, like 1 to 100, that a third grade student is being tested on third grade material.”   I had to confirm that, yes, the government is actually using her children as political pawns, that the test scores are manipulated cut scores.  Cut scores have been set too low,  so that all children look like they are “proficient” or too high so that too many children look like they are “failing.”

This article explains how cut scores for the tests in NYS where students were predicted to have a 30% pass rate and then predicted to have a marginal improvement.

This article references many direct sources on setting cut scores.  My favorite quote, taken from Educational Testing Services primer on setting cut scores.

“It is important to list the reasons why cut scores are being set and to obtain consensus among stakeholders that the reasons are appropriate. An extremely useful exercise is to attempt to describe exactly how the cut scores will bring about each of the desired outcomes. It may be the case that some of the expected benefits of cut scores are unlikely to be achieved unless major educational reforms are accomplished. It will become apparent that cut scores, by themselves, have very little power to improve education. Simply measuring a child and classifying the child’s growth as adequate or inadequate will not help the child grow. ”

Yet, these scores are used to close schools, politically manipulate parents, and manufacture failure.  It is time for this to stop.  Parents are on to the uselessness of standardized testing in the public education system.  The trust has been betrayed.  It is time to stop.  Policies that pit citizens against government agencies that are supposed to serve the public good (schools) need to be repealed.  The government needs to stop listening to organizations that promote standardized testing while admitting that it does not work.

High Stakes Testing

NCLB is supposed to mean No Child Left Behind.  Yet it is under the auspices of No Child Left Behind that states have established a system of high stakes high school exit exams that preclude too many students from getting a high school diploma.  So, if students are unable to graduate, either because of learning disabilities that make standardized testing too much of a struggle, or because they are English Language Learners and are not yet ready for college level English, what are they supposed to do?  Sit around in school until they are 21?  Go on welfare?  Never be able to get a good paying full time job because it looks like they were too lazy to get a High School diploma?  You need a high school diploma to drive a truck, but you truly do not need to know Algebra or Geometry (at least on paper), or write an essay based on boring government documents within a short time frame.  You need a high school diploma to get a full time job as an orderly or nurses aide at an assisted living facility, but you do not need to score a 20 or better on the ACTs.

NCLB Waiver

This has to be one of the most egregious uses of power in the history of the United States.  The fact that  Congress put so much power into the hands of one appointed bureaucrat is something that must make it into history books and be taught to every student so that every citizen of the United States knows to keep watch and never let this happen again.

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, has withheld tax payer money earmarked for education in Oklahoma and Washington state because they did not implement policies in accordance to his will.  He has threatened to withhold education funds from New York State, and recently Chicago.  He is threatening to withhold money from the poorest school districts.  The reality is, this waiver power should not exist because it has already been established that the parameters for “No Child Left Behind” are untenable.   The only way to “Leave No Child Behind” is to NOT mandate where every child is supposed to be.

Thank you,

Christine Zirkelbach


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