As part of a Slate series of policy briefs for the next president, UVA law professor Jim Ryan offers a fix-NCLB agenda. But he fails to notice that his proposed solutions completely contradict one another.
We are told, for example, that because NCLB “requires schools to test the bejeezus out of elementary- and middle-school students in reading and math,” we should “Administer fewer tests. National tests should be given less often, perhaps in only fourth, eighth, and 11th grades.”
We are also told that “Current test results don’t tell us all we need to know about schools” because they ignore subject like “social studies, history, literature, geography, art, and music,” and that “What we can’t tell from scores alone, because they don’t tell us where students started or how much they progressed over the year, is the value that a particular teacher or school has added to a student’s education.” Therefore, “School quality should also be measured using value-added assessments, crediting schools that make exceptional progress with their students, regardless of where those students started.”
Which is it? If the NCLB is to be faulted because it causes schools to “downplay if not ignore subjects not tested,” how does fewer tests in the same subjects fix that problem? And you can’t have value-added measures without annual testing, which Ryan wants to eliminate.
This is, to use a bloggy cliche, a classic “and a pony” policy agenda. NCLB can be improved, no doubt, but the people who wrote it weren’t morons; there are some very real and difficult tradeoffs to contend with in formulating accountability policy, and one of them is the tension between the costs and burdens of assessment and the need for comprehensive information. This is the equivalent of promises to cut taxes and increase services. Call it supply-side education policy: the less we test, the more we’ll know.