In the Richmond Times Dispatch civil rights attorney Angela Ciolfi and I ask for a more meaningful NCLB wavier request from Virginia:

Low-income and minority students in Virginia shouldn’t have to look to the federal government for a school accountability system protecting their interests. But because Virginia has so far failed to design a method for holding schools accountable that actually includes all students, the federal law is their last resort. Virginia policymakers control the solution to this problem. They could start designing a more rigorous state system today and then rightly tell Washington to bow out. Instead, this request for a federal education waiver would further obscure the reality of educational performance in the commonwealth and undermine a commitment to the success of our most vulnerable students.

2 Replies to “Wavering”

  1. In their Richmond Times Dispatch letter, Ciolfi and Rotherham complain that Virginia is not addressing low achievement by student subgroups — minorities, low-income, LD. They also complain that Virginia students’ pass rates on Virginia’s state-developed standardized tests are much higher than Virginia students’ pass rates on nationally-developed standardized tests.

    But, it’s not clear exactly what they want done to address these problems.

    If they are advocating high-stakes-testing (that is, teachers discharged, schools closed based on test scores), then their proposed remedy will not cure the problem, might make it worse, and will have important adverse side effects — particularly the discharge of competent and even outstanding teachers who had the courage or misfortune to teach classes containing many “problem” students. Even the most complex value-added models do not compensate for the impact of non-teacher-controlled variables — particularly the disruption of classroom instruction by disruptive students — on a teacher’s student test scores.

    If they are advocating for more detailed low-stakes-testing (that is, a breaking-down of student test scores by student subgroups and publicizing of these results to the community but without establishing specific consequences to the test scores), their position is much more reasonable. Low-stakes-testing allows teachers, school administrators, elected school boards, and concerned citizens to identify possible problems without irrationally attributing blame for those problems or enforcing possibly counter-productive solutions to those problems. Low-stakes-testing also minimizes the risk of adverse side effects — i.e., discharge of competent teachers, teaching to the test, curriculm narrowing, cheating, discouraging teachers from teaching in schools with many “problem” students. And, our long tradition of local control of education argues strongly against Richmond or Washington deciding what is causing problems in local schools or what solutions our local schools should adopt.

  2. LaborLawyer: I agree with your conclusion that low-stakes testing (especially using locally devised solutions) is much better than high-stakes testing. High-stakes testing (where student results are tied to teacher dismissal) will simply result in additional problems, such as teaching to the test and/or teacher shying away from working in low-income schools, where they would be unfairly penalized.

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