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Spring 2004
No Child Left Behind
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Student Engaged in Studies

From these examples, it is clear that in planning instruction, a diligent teacher might miss by a mile the test designers' interpretation of the standards. This teacher will have inadvertently reduced the fairness of education for his or her students. Other standards are very clear about expectations and benchmarks. The key logic underpinning NCLB and other results-focused innovations is a clear relationship among standards, instruction, tests and learning. The idea is that, based on results of regularly administered measures, progress can be gauged, and if students have difficulty, educators will be able to fix their problems.

Factors including cost, tradition and technical reasons have led many states to use achievement tests that are relatively short and that necessarily represent only a few of the types of knowledge, skills and situations described in standards. For the most part, they consist of short, easily scored items.

What happens, then, when test developers and teachers have very different interpretations of a set of standards or there are too many standards to be tested by the state? As tests are kept secret, and details of test design and content are usually not readily available, it is possible for teachers to miss important areas that will be tested. In reality, the interpretation of standards by the test developer is given most weight. Because results on tests are used to distribute sanctions (for instance, classifying a school as needing improvement or restructuring), the test itself, not the standards, becomes the major blueprint that guides teaching and learning.

There is nothing wrong with the idea under certain circumstances; I am happy, for example, to have a Boeing 777 flight simulator used as the way to certify the competence of pilots in emergencies, bad weather and other difficult situations. However, flying a 777, demanding as it is, has a complex but agreed-upon set of procedures at its core. What about mathematics? Science? English language? These are open to wide and legitimate ranges of interpretation.

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