Column: There is a better way to measure accountability

Published 11:22 am Tuesday, May 20, 2008

By Sally Ehrhardt, No. 2 Pencil

Recently, the students of Albert Lea Area Schools completed the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests, which are mandated by the federal law called No Child Left Behind.

The school board received several reports commenting on how serious the students were about taking the test. I want to express my appreciation to all the students that worked hard and long to do the very best that they could. I understand that several students in one third-grade classroom spent most of a whole day working hard to be sure they did their best on the test.

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Some of the English language learners at Southwest Middle School also took several hours to complete their math test, setting the bar pretty high for the rest of

Southwest to try equally hard. This level of commitment demonstrates that teachers and other staff are providing the structure and environment that helps kids do well. It also honors the dedication of students to the task of doing their best work.

But is all this testing really in the best interests of children? Is one high stakes test on one day a fair way to judge student achievement or growth? Do all children get to the same place at the same time? Is teaching about how to take a test the best use of our creative teaching methods? Are the minute NCLB details based on the best practices for educating our kids?

Personally, I answer no to all the above questions, and I will explain why.

Not all children learn at the same pace as others. Some children have never held a book when they start school. Others have been read to every day of their young lives, yet the federal government expects these children to have at least the same minimum passing skills and be able to show it on the same day in the same way. We have all been to school. We know that this is not possible.

I think a better way of measuring accountability would be to test for student&8217;s growth. Make sure the student shows improvement from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Our district already does this type of testing. Each student is expected to improve by a certain number of points each school year in reading and math. I am pleased to report that in our district the vast majority of students do attain that higher score.

I think we can all agree that teaching for the test is not a productive use of teaching time, but in the current climate, what choice do we have?

The focus is all on reading and math, because they are the state-tested subjects. Other subjects are getting less attention.

According to other reports, some Asian countries are now realizing that strict adherence to rote learning creates a country of test-takers, but not the creative minds that we Americans have always prided ourselves on. So while the federal government wants our students to score as well on tests as Asian students do, some educational leaders in Asia are advocating for less testing and more time for creativity and the application of skills. They want to capture what we are being forced to leave behind.

Sally Ehrhardt is a member of the Albert Lea school board.