NCLB bites again

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article=the_test_generation expose first graders to Picasso and Matisse, then test them to show gowth in the student's understanding of art.

In the social sciences, there is an oft-repeated aphorism called Campbell's Law, named after Donald Campbell, the psychologist who pioneered the study of human creativity: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." In short, incentives corrupt. Daniel Koretz, the Harvard education professor recognized as the country's leading expert on academic testing, writes in his book Measuring Up that Campbell's Law is especially applicable to education; there is a preponderance of evidence showing that high-stakes tests lead to a narrowed curriculum, score inflation, and even outright cheating among those tasked with scoring exams.

I had not heard of Campbell's law, though knew of it's basics in scientific testing. I also knew that the following would result from nclb

A number of state- and city-level studies from the No Child Left Behind era found that swiftly rising scores on high-stakes state tests were accompanied by appalling stagnation in students' actual knowledge as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gold-standard exam administered to a sample set of students each year by the federal Department of Education. In 2005, for example, Alabama reported that 83 percent of its fourth-graders were proficient in reading, even though the NAEP found that only 22 percent of these children were proficient readers. The harsh punishments associated with NCLB had encouraged Alabama and most other states to dumb down their tests and then teach directly to them.

"The kind of motivation that results from pressure can get you certain kinds of test scores, but what happens is that the motivation and the learning don't persist over time," says Edward Deci, a social psychologist and expert on motivation. Deci has studied the effects of testing on teaching and learning since the early 1970s, and he is a firm opponent of tying teacher evaluation and pay to student test scores. "The kind of learning associated with pressure is rote learning, rather than conceptual learning," he says.

Memorize the dates, or the phrase, but don't try to understand the meaning.

"He died for our sins" is a well known phrase, but ask a follow up question sometime [but make sure you have an exit strategy... I mean fire exits, too]

douglaslee's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm


I've posted this article several times on this forum (during it's many inceptions since 2001), thanks to the brilliance of Michael Meyerhoff, Ed.D... ....and I'm willing to bet a beer and a burger it won't be the last since so many adults just don't seem to be able to "get it".

The Plural of Leaf is Tree:

Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

There is a great book out there "Leaving Children Behind" by Valenzuela. It is a collection of studies on the Texas policy on which NCLB was based. It focuses on the negative effects this has had on Latino students in the state but it supplies ample information about how NCLB was based off of a failed state policy and the doctored numbers used to justify its "success". Thick with research but a good read if you can stomach that kind of thing.

Thanks for the info from the two of you. I will be looking into Campbell's work now!!

Dec. 13, 2010 10:00 pm

There was a book about the use of letter grades in schools. The author was critical of the pratice because, if I recall, he thought that grades were too subjective and thus were rather vague and thus were unfair. He gave an example of an experiment that had been done many years ago. Somehow, a single test paper was reproduced and given to several teachers. Different teachers assigned different grades to the identical paper. They were using differing criteria in grading the paper. The entire evaluation process in education needs to be reviewed. Parents should get organized on the grass roots level to have less emphasis placed on standardized tests as the end all and be all of education on the part of politicians who are not even licensed teachers.

Since Douglaslee mentioned the artists Picasso and Matisse, I have an interest in the field of classical music, which is a misnomer as the term "classical" refers to a specific period in music history consisting primarily of only two composers: Mozart and Haydn. In the state where I live, there is a state university which has the largest music school in the world. Yet, I would venture to say that most people know very little about concert music. Wyton Marsalis has talked about how students grow up not listening to or knowing anything about America's jazz heritage, even though jazz is America's original contribution to music as a genre that was invented and developed in this country.

Some people including some progressives wrongly seem to think that symphony and opera is a type of music that is elitist. Music of a non-popular nature and art represent human emotion, perception, and creativity in a way that cannot be duplicated in any other manner. There are any number of classical musicians, some prominent, who are from China. It sometimes seems as if more Chinese people know about this type of music than do Americans, even though most of the composers were European. The poor performance of our economy serves to justify further cuts in music instruction in the schools. For the performing arts to continue and to thrive, you have to have instruction starting at an early age.

Great musicians and artists can help to bring people together, but their work also does something to lift a culture above the ordinary and the mediocre. There is so much intellectual and political mediocrity in America that I am of the belief that our cultural deterioration and deprivation may be related to how people perceive others and how their intellectual and emotional development, or lack thereof, unfolds in ways in which people are missing much of what life should include.

Robindell's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

I remember when my son was in eighth grade and we had to meet with his principal regarding my son's reluctance to turn in homework. The principal told me homework was 68% of my son's overall grade. My jaw dropped and I was speechless for a moment. After I regained my composure I asked, "Do you mean to tell me doing homework supersedes test scores? What the hell are you really evaluating - the actual acquisition of knowledge or the effectiveness of conditioning a redundant work ethic?"

Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

The America I Knew Has Almost Disappeared

Like an alcoholic family that won't discuss alcoholism (and proving Don Quixote's warning to never mention rope in the home of a man who's been hanged), far too many Americans are unwilling to acknowledge or even discuss the ongoing collapse of democracy in the United States.

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