Monday, August 13, 2007

Accountability in No Child Left Behind

As the Congressional vote to reauthorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB) gets closer, we can expect the debate over NCLB to intensify. Most of my colleagues in the NCTE leadership are extremely critical of NCLB and the effects it has had on American education. I share this dissatisfaction with NCLB. Still, NCLB has had a few positive effects. The requirement for disaggregating testing data by race, for example, has shone a bright and useful light on shameful racial disparities in our schools. The demand that all children be taught by “highly qualified” teachers is also worthwhile even if I am disappointed by the way the Bush administration has defined “highly qualified” so that it means minimally qualified. I also think it is entirely reasonable that teachers be held accountable for teaching all the children in their classrooms. But accountable for what? In its present form, NCLB holds teachers accountable for improving student performance on state achievement tests. This form of accountability has led to narrow, test-focused instruction that has diminished the quality of literacy education for many students, especially students in low-performing schools. Arguably, the fourth-grade reading slump that plagues urban schools is a function of an over emphasis on discrete reading skills measured by state tests at the expense of wide reading of engaging literature. Test-based accountability has also had a negative effect on teacher discretion as more and more teachers are being asked to teach reading through the use of prescriptive reading programs. Again, my complaint isn’t whether teachers should be held accountable, but what they should be held accountable for. Therefore, I would like to propose a different model of accountability that would not be based primarily on test scores. I would like every teacher to be accountable for documenting to parents and school administrators that they have pushed every child in their class as far as they could go as readers and writers during the time they were in the teacher’s class. The documentation of student progress would have to be based on regular, wide-ranging assessments of students’ reading and writing. Further, if students were not making adequate progress teachers would also have to show how they adapted or modified instruction based on their ongoing assessment of students’ needs. This model of accountability is based on the assumption that instruction and assessment – and accountability – must be focused on the individual needs of each and every student.

This is a far more rigorous standard of accountability than is called for in the current version of NCLB but I think this model of accountability would go much further in insuring that no child IS left behind.

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