Testing Serves Students
To some students, “test” is a four-letter word.
Given the choice, I’m sure many would welcome the chance
to be tested only every other year. But the adults in charge
of their education surely know better.
Or do they?
Commissioner Betty Sternberg has asked the U.S. Department
of Education to exempt half of the state’s
students from annual testing under the No Child Left Behind
Act. She said, “Adding tests in grades 3, 5 and 7 ...
will tell us nothing that we do not already know about our
I disagree. For one
thing, it will tell you how well your third-, fifth- and
seventh-graders are doing. Teachers cannot remedy weaknesses
they don’t see. The whole point of
assessing students regularly is to catch problems early so
they can be fixed before it’s too late. Every year builds
on what was learned before. Therefore, we cannot exempt a single
class or grade level.
The No Child Left Behind
Act is an expression of President Bush’s belief that
every child can learn and must be taught. It was passed by
overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress, tired of
seeing graduates receive diplomas they could not read.
The law measures students annually in grades 3-8, and once
more before graduation. It holds schools accountable for bringing
them up to grade level in reading and math. The tests are not
dictated by Washington, but are designed and developed by the
has received more than $23 million to develop its assessments.
Commissioner Sternberg claims the assessments for grades
3, 5 and 7 would cost Connecticut another $41 million. This
estimate is off the mark. It includes costs either unrelated
to testing, such as “curriculum adjustment” and
school choice, or met by the federal government already, such
as professional development. The testing mechanisms are in
place—they simply need to be applied to the rest of Connecticut’s
Assessment is one of the linchpins of No Child Left Behind.
Another is disaggregation of data—separating scores by
different student groups. For decades, an achievement gap was
allowed to grow in our nation’s schools, with wealthier
and white students on one track and disadvantaged, disabled
and minority students increasingly on another.
Former Clinton administration official and state Education
Commissioner Gerald Tirozzi, who now leads the National Association
of Secondary School Principals, called it “two Connecticuts:
separate and unequal.” Students were misdiagnosed, victimized
by low expectations and hidden behind district-wide averages
- out of sight and left behind.
President Bush saw this for what it was: unacceptable. Today,
nearly every state has reported improved academic performance,
with minority students and urban schools posting some of the
greatest gains. Thanks in part to No Child Left Behind, the
pernicious achievement gap is finally beginning to close.#
Margaret Spellings is U.S. secretary of education. This
article appeared in the Hartford Courant on Sunday, March