Wednesday, November 20, 2013

30 Years After A Nation at Risk - Risky Business

30 Years After A Nation at Risk – Risky Business
By Jonathan T. Jefferson, Ed.D.
Author of MUGAMORE

“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”  In 1983, the once internationally prominent United States education system was unceremoniously awakened.  A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform was released by President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education.  Politics aside, it can be said that this report lead to an assessment crazed generation. 

Standardized tests of achievement (not to be confused with aptitude tests) should be administered at major transition points from one level of schooling to another and particularly from high school to college or work.  The purpose of these tests would be to: (a) certify the student’s credentials; (b) identify the need for remedial intervention; and (c) identify the opportunity for advanced or accelerated work.  The tests should be administered as part of a nationwide (but not Federal) system of State and local standardized tests.  This system should include other diagnostic procedures that assist teachers and students to evaluate student progress.  (A Nation at Risk)

At the time of this Commission’s report, the United States was still among the educational leaders on the world’s stage.  Thirty years later, and our country is struggling to maintain its status in the top twenty.  What is the answer now?  Will Common Core State Standards (CCSS) close the gap?  It remains to be seen whether or not CCSS is the answer, but already risky measures are being implemented.

Statewide assessment tests are being developed to measure how well students are meeting the CCSS.  In some states (e.g. New York), the results of statewide assessment tests are being used to evaluate teachers and principals.  This is quite risky indeed.  There are teachers who have been previously identified as highly effective who are now reluctant to teach struggling learners.  These teachers are concerned that low scores by struggling learners on state assessments will reflect poorly when the teacher is rated.   Other consequences of these measures may include a rush to label students with a disability (ADD, ADHD, ED, etc.).  Once deemed disabled, the onus of the student’s poor test scores is no longer on the teacher or principal.

Common Core State Standards geared toward college and career readiness is a good thing.  Rushing to develop assessments for an overly assessed populous, and connecting those rushed assessments to teachers’ and principals’ evaluations is a dangerous thing.  When every student K – 12 has been educated since kindergarten toward CCSS, then evaluating the impact of CCSS would be justified.