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de-testing and de-grading schools

Authentic Alternatives to Accountability and Standardization


Edited By Joe Bower and Paul L. Thomas

A century of education and education reform, along with more than three decades of high-stakes testing and accountability, reveals a disturbing paradox: education has a steadfast commitment to testing and grading. This commitment persists despite ample research, theory, and philosophy revealing the corrosive consequences of both testing and grading in an education system designed to support human agency and democratic principles. This revised edited volume brings together a collection of updated and new essays that confronts the failure of testing and grading. The book explores the historical failure of testing and grading; the theoretical and philosophical arguments against testing and grading; the negative influence of tests and grades on social justice, race, class, and gender; and the role that they play in perpetuating a deficit perspective of children. The chapters fall under two broad sections. Part I, Degrading Learning, Detesting Education: The Failure of High-Stake Accountability in Education, includes essays on the historical, theoretical, and philosophical arguments against testing and grading. Part II, De-Grading and De-Testing in a Time of High-Stakes Education Reform, presents practical experiments in de-testing and de-grading classrooms for authentic learning experiences.
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Chapter One: NCLB’s Lost Decade for Educational Progress: What Can We Learn from This Policy Failure?


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NCLB’s Lost Decade FOR Educational Progress

What Can We Learn from This Policy Failure?1


In 2001, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, making it the educational law of the land for 15 years. During that time, it earned a reputation for failure and became widely reviled by educators, parents and independent researchers. Then, in December 2015, Congress passed and President Obama signed a new version of the long-standing Elementary and Secondary Education Act, called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” The new law removes some, but not all, of NCLB’s damaging provisions, creating both opportunities and dangers for a growing test reform movement.

A review of the evidence demonstrates that NCLB failed badly both in terms of its own goals and more broadly. It neither significantly increased academic performance nor significantly reduced achievement gaps, even as measured by standardized exams.2 In fact, because of its misguided reliance on one-size-fits-all testing, as well as labeling and sanctioning schools, it undermined positive education reform efforts. Many schools, particularly those serving low-income students, have become little more than test-preparation programs.

ESSA, though flawed in numerous serious ways, improves on current federal testing policy, particularly for accountability. The unrealistic “Adequate Yearly Progress” annual test score gain requirement is gone, as are all the specific punitive sanctions imposed on schools and teachers....

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