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Most of the political discussions about America’s failing education system do two things. First, they blame someone, usually the teachers, and second, they seek simple-minded solutions that assume all children are developmentally equal and live in the same socioeconomic environment.

If education were only about what can be scored on a test, then we don’t need teachers, we need mind programmers

No Child Left Behind was based on the belief that a standard test would be the ultimate measure of a student’s success or failure. The assumption was that if student’s scores on a standardized test failed to achieve established goals then we could all blame the teachers and administrative staff, then punish them. The concept assumed that a student’s base level abilities, and parental support was irrelevant. No Child Left Behind was an idea that applied a corporate-like measurement system, which often fails in a business environment, and forced public schools to leave education behind in pursuit of goals that reduced students to do or die numbers.

The failure of No Child Left Behind is so spectacular that after a decade the program began, over two-thirds of the States are ranked at a “D” or “F” in the quality of education by StudentsFirst.org Report Card

Standardized tests assume that every child is an X, but in reality they are A to Z

Standardized tests assume that every child is an X, but in reality they can be A to Z

One of the major failures of the program was the institutionalizing of testing standards that encouraged teachers to focus on teaching their students how to successfully take the tests, but not to understand the material. The program ultimately forced out many excellent teachers that rejected the absurdity of No Child Left Behind, which is ironic because the goal was to force out less effective teachers. The result has been that school after school has failed to produce the results desired leaving America with a generation of students who are even less prepared for adult life.

Nevada’s Washoe County School District (WCSD) is typical of many school districts across the United States. For the 2010-11 school year the standardized tests indicated that an average of 85% of the high school students (9th-12th grades) met or exceeded the established standards for reading, writing, and math. Those scores would indicate that 85% of the students are prepared to move on from high school.

However, of the 1,600 Washoe County School District graduates that attended Nevada state-run universities, almost half (48%) of them required remedial classes to bring them up to college entrance-level work. The standardized tests are designed to measure competency; however, even though the scores indicate the students are prepared, almost 1 out of 2 need to take classes to address educational deficiencies.

Some might say this just confirms the inadequacy of public schools; however, if that were true the standardized tests should reflect those failures and they do not. It is the inadequacy of the standardized test to measure educational performance or lack of performance.  

Standardized tests can be an effective tool in education, but they are just one tool. If we truly want to improve the educational performance of America’s students we must stop holding a knife to the throat of teachers and schools and stop using simple-minded measurements of academic performance to determine whether they live or die. A teacher can’t be held accountable for a parent that doesn’t believe in homework, therefore causing the student to be behind the rest of her/his class. It’s time we began supporting the teachers who have years of training and experience in education, rather than applying failed business models that destroy public education.