Franken leads charge to reform No Child Left Behind

Arguing the current standard for student assessment is a “perversity” that leads to a “race to the middle,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) successfully introduced an amendment that would better gauge student learning and knowledge. The proposal is part of the ongoing Senate debate over how to move the nation’s major education law of the land beyond No Child Left Behind.

His amendment, one of a handful passed so far by the HELP committee as it undergoes a markup of the sweeping K-12 education bill authored by leading sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), would lift the restrictions currently in place that bar states from testing students based on their current skill level.

Just like the higher education entrance assessment the GRE, Sen. Franken’s amendment opens the door for states to use Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT), software that increases or decreases the difficulty of questions based on the test taker’s response. Present state efforts, like Oregon’s, to incorporate CAT have been stymied since current law views such methods as introducing questions not on level with the skill level of middle of the road students.

“I’ve traveled all over Minnesota and heard from principals, teachers, and administrators who say they need a better way to measure the growth of their students, because the current testing system just isn’t working,” Sen. Franken told TAI in an e-mail.

CAT methods of student assessment, Franken said, can assist teachers in identifying a student’s strengths and weaknesses in real time, since results for the tests are generated immediately. He described the current testing standard — states issuing exams and receiving results months later — as an “autopsy” of student skill-level rather than an evaluation.

“When the results finally come back, it’s too late to do anything for students who are failing, said Franken to TAI. “Computer adaptive testing gives our teachers the tools and information they need to help our kids succeed in the classroom. I’m pleased that my provision was approved during the HELP committee markup this afternoon.”

Frequent criticism of the assessments borne out of the No Child Left Behind era is that they focus on getting students up to speed on a certain level of proficiency.

During the markup, Franken said of the few things he liked about No Child Left Behind was its name. “Well you’re leaving that kid behind, you’re leaving this kid behind,” he added.

A fact sheet e-mailed to The American Independent by Franken’s staff included the following analysis of assessments:

Fixed form tests allow students who are high-performing to look good all year with out much effort and struggling students who work and grow dramatically to still be counted as under-performers. Students and teachers are not accurately assessed and evaluated, and it makes it more likely that these students will not get adequate attention from teachers.

The amendment clearly states that a CAT evaluation method is not mandatory.

The reliance on technology has been one of the prevailing themes of the current markup session to reauthorize ESEA, the 1965 law passed by the Johnson administration that outlines the federal government’s role in education spending.

Computer systems were presented as solutions for creating cross-tabulation systems that would determine the performance of a subset of student groups, like African American females, and monitoring the matriculation of eighth graders to better understand high school drop out rates.

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