Get ESEA Right: U.S. Senate considers better assessments for measuring student growth

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by Brian Washington

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Using test scores to measure student achievement is like using a yard stick to measure the weather. That’s according to Wisconsin educator John Havlicek, who says test scores are “an easy, popular choice” for politicians. But when it comes to using them for authentic student assessment, they don’t work.

“The research is really incontrovertible,” said Havlicek, a 17-year high school Spanish teacher. “It’s the wrong tool for that (student assessment). All over the world, the only thing test scores have been shown to most accurately measure is a child’s family income.”

Going back to No Child Left Behind, we’ve been using test scores as a kind of proxy for the quality of schools and it’s not really a good proxy for that”

Read the legislative review of the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.

That’s why Havlicek is glad one of his U.S. Senators, Tammy Baldwin, along with Senators Sherrod Brown (OH), Mark Kirk (IL), and Jack Reed (OH), is introducing an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA). The ECAA, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor, is the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind.

The amendment Baldwin and the others will put forth would add to the legislation what’s being called an “Opportunity Dashboard.” The Opportunity Dashboard is comprised of a series of school-quality indicators that will allow parents, educators, and entire communities to track and quantify those things that are most helpful to students succeeding in the classroom. Some of the indicators include graduation rates, students’ access to fully qualified teachers as well as modern materials, facilities, technology, books, and libraries.

Havlicek, who teaches in La Crosse, a town of about 50,000 people with a school system of about 5,000 students, says, if approved, the Opportunity Dashboard will highlight the strengths and weaknesses connected to school funding. And while he says his community is very supportive and has passed referenda to increase funding for public schools in the last three years, that is not the case in huge urban centers and small rural communities where people are struggling.

“Look at Milwaukee public schools and what has been reported about Philadelphia schools. You defund the schools and kids don’t do well. And then they (politicians) turn around and blame the teachers and the kids. They (educators and students) need more support. Not less.”

Havlicek says the other thing the Opportunity Dashboard will do is help the electorate hold politicians accountable for the resources needed to ensure that all students—regardless of where they live—have what they need to learn and thrive.

“The schools in the poorer, disadvantage areas tend to be home to a lot of black and brown communities,” said Havlicek. “These schools need more funding and they are not getting it.”

Senators are set to take up the Opportunity Dashboard amendment on Tuesday, which is why the National Education Association (NEA), which is made up of more than 3-million active and retired educators, is calling on you to act now. Send your U.S. Senators a message: Urge them to support the Opportunity Dashboard amendment sponsored by Senators Baldwin, Brown, Kirk, and Reed.

The ECAA, which has bipartisan support, represents lawmaker’s best chance at reauthorizing ESEA and getting it right. And educators like Havlicek agree—making sure the Opportunity Dashboard is part of the legislation will go a long way in doing just that.

“If we really get into it and take the time, the dashboard will really tell us what’s going on with students and it will be much more accurate,” said Havlicek. “As I said, it will take a little more time, it won’t fit on a bumper sticker, and you can’t do it in ten seconds or less, but frankly, I feel the electorate is way more savvy now than ever before and people will understand this.”

Click here to send your U.S. Senators a message to support the Opportunity Dashboard amendment.

Reader Comments

  1. The current public educational system, from daycare and up through high school, is a travesty. The testing programs have only proved that for the most part they are not a measure of learning. They are a system of teaching for/to the tests.

    We have to amend and revamp the way our children are taught. If we are to become truly an educated society, we have to become truly educated.


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