One major point regarding equity as applied to performance-based assessment is made by Yale Professor Emeritus Edmund Gordon (Dietel, Herman and Knuth, 1991). "We begin with the conviction that it is desirable that attention be given to questions of equity early in the development of an assessment process rather than as an add-on near the end of such work....The task then is to find assessment probes (test items) which measure the same criterion from contexts and perspectives which reflect the life space and values of the learner."
According to Robert Linn (Dietel, Herman and Knuth, 1991), "The criterion of equity needs to be applied to any assessment. It is a mistake to assume that shifting from standardized tests to performance-based assessments will eliminate concerns about biases against racial/ethnic minorities or that such a shift will necessarily lead to equality of performance. Although many at-risk students come to school deficient in prior knowledge that is important to school achievement, teachers and schools can make a substantial difference through the construction of assessments that take into account the vast diversity of today's student populations. Gaps in performance among groups exist because of differences in familiarity, exposure, and motivation of the subjects being assessed. Substantial changes in instructional strategy and resource allocation are required to give students adequate preparation for complex, time-consuming, open-ended assessments. Providing training and support for teachers to move in these directions is essential."
Most states have adopted state-level standards in math, reading, history, science, and other subjects and tests to make sure that students are learning (Kafer, 2004). Some have adopted "high-stakes" tests that decide whether students may ascend to the next grade or graduate. Some states provide financial incentives to high-performing schools. For instance, in Florida, high-performing schools receive awards while low-performing schools receive additional monetary aid and technical assistance. Students in the lowest-performing schools are allowed to transfer to other schools, public or private.
Impact on Teachers, Parents and Schools
The Act is based on a government commitment to ensure that all children receive a high quality education so that no child is left behind (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). Many believe that it has led to higher standards and greater accountability throughout the Nation's school systems, while others feel that the outcome has been negative.
On a positive note, the Act has improved education for parents, teachers, students and schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). The Act gives school districts more money for the education of America's children. It also gives states and school districts more control and more flexibility to use resources as they see necessary. Principals and teachers are given incentives to teach well.
Many parents perceive the Act as a good thing, as it holds schools and school districts accountable for results (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). Schools are responsible for teaching children and are held accountable if they do not. Parents are also given report cards that show which schools in their district are succeeding and what they are doing. This report card provides school leaders, teachers and parents with the information they need to improve schools.
The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (CRP) recently released a study that reports the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has not improved reading and mathematical achievement or reduced achievement gaps. The study also revealed that the NCLB is far behind in its goals of complete student proficiency by 2014.
The report compared the findings from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) to state assessment results (The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2006). It suggests that state assessment results show improvements in math and reading, but students have not shown similar gains on the NAEP -- the only independent national test that randomly samples students in the United States.
Under the NCLB, states receive the power to decide which tests to use for accountability and proficiency (The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2006). In turn, states must face their results and deal with low-performing schools. NCLB requires annual progress of all students toward the state proficiency levels. The report shows how over the past few years since the NCLB's inception, "Students should perform well on both tests because they cover the same subjects," according to the study's author Jaekyung Lee of he State University of New York at Buffalo. "What we are seeing is, the higher the stakes of the assessment, the higher the discrepancies in the results. Based on the NAEP, there are no systemic indications of improving the average achievement and narrowing the gap after NCLB."
The report also shows that federal accountability rules have no significant impact on racial and poverty gaps (The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2006). According to the report, the NCLB Act actually seems to leave minority and poor students, even with additional educational support, far behind with little opportunity to meet the 2014 goals.
This report is depressing given the tremendous amount of pressure schools have been under and the damage that a lot of high poverty racial schools have undergone by being declared as failing schools," according to Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and professor of education and social policy at Harvard Graduate School of Education (The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2006). "We have not focused on the kinds of serious long-term reforms that can actually produce gains and narrow the huge gaps in opportunity and achievement for minority students."
In conclusion, there are many positive goals associated with the NCLB Act. However, the Act ultimately takes the control of classrooms away from the schools, teachers, parents, and communities who are directly accountable to their children. With fiscally-based mandates from the national level, schools and teachers work in a reactionary and fearful manner, rather a creative and individualistic manner that is often more effective in classrooms.
With national standards, schools are forced to move away from creative, individualized, and caring programs where teachers are learning about how each child is learning, and move toward a generic program for all students. Schools are forced to eliminate programs that are doing excellent work under challenging conditions of poverty and disease, and implement programs that are effective simply because the groups being served are not as challenging. In addition, many good teachers who do not meet standards are replaced by poor teachers who meet the standards.
Accountability is a great idea, but it seems that the Act does not help implement a model that really works with teachers, students, and families at a local level. Instead, it penalizes schools whose resources are already insufficient. Basically, the Act does take measures to ensure that special attention is given to improved learning for children who have been ignored or left behind in the school system. Its efforts to reduce the achievement gap are also commendable, for the short-term.
However, this does not mean that NCLB is working. In reality, the accountability system has some major problems that threaten its primary goals over the next few years. This paper indicates that there are as many cons as there are pros when It comes to NCLB, and suggests that there is a need for an improved model if the needs of all students are to truly be met.
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Kafer, Krista. (July 6, 2004). No Child Left Behind: Where Do We Go From Here? The American Enterprise Institute.
Pennsylvania Department of Education. (2005). Overview of No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from the Internet at http://www.pde.state.pa.us/nclb/cwp/view.asp?a=3&Q=77815&nclbNav=.
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The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. (June 14, 2006). Testing the NCLB: Study shows that NCLB hasn't significantly impacted national achievement scores or narrowed the racial gaps. The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.
U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Facts and Terms Every Parent Should Know About NCLB. Retrieved from the Internet at http://www.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/parents/parentfacts.html.