Friday, March 29, 2013

High-Stakes testing and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have roots in Dallas ISD

The story of high-stakes testing and the  test and punish requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) includes a role played many years ago at Dallas ISD.  

The early role played by Dallas ISD in the development of the test and punish "accountability" movement started with a Commission For Educational Excellence (1990-91) appointed by Dallas ISD Trustees and headed by Sandy Kress - an attorney who moved to Austin,Texas and later became "the principal architect of Texas’s accountability system."

I served on that Dallas ISD Commission For Educational Excellence (1990-91) and supported a minority report dissenting from certain recommendations made in the full Commission report to the Board of Trustees.
Rewarding Effective Schools -Theory and Practice in an Outstanding Schools Awards Program (March 1997)

William J. Webster Robert Mendro Donna K. Bearden Karen L. Bembry Heather R.Jordan
Dallas Public Schools Introduction
In 1990, the Board of Education of the Dallas Public Schools established a Commission for Educational Excellence to examine the instructional aspects of the District and to make any necessary recommendations to help improve the education of the District's students. Among the Commission's recommendations was to establish a method to identify effective schools and teachers relative to their students' outcomes. Further, the Commission recommended that the most effective schools be rewarded and the least effective schools be helped to assist them in improving their students' outcomes (Commission, 1991). Adopting the Commission's recommendations, the Board directed the administration to develop a system for a) identifying effective and ineffective schools in an equitable fashion and b) rewarding effective schools for their achievements. The system was to be based primarily on student achievement but to include and allow for non-achievement variables. Awards were to be sufficiently substantial to have meaning to the participants. The system was developed and put into place in the 1991-92 school year. Effective and ineffective schools have been identified each year and, in the 5 years of the program, approximately 11 million dollars have been awarded to staff members.

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A large part of the high-stakes testing and No Child Left Behind story was recently told in a January 13, 2013 article written by Tom Paulken in the publication - The American Conservative

meckert75 / Flickr
meckert75 / Flickr

"Seventeen months from now, every American student will be proficient in reading, and mathematics. On what basis do I make such a bold claim? It’s the law.

When the No Child Left Behind Legislation was signed by President George W. Bush 11 years ago, it required that by the end of 2013-2014 school year, “all students… will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement on the State assessments.”

If you find it absurd that we can make all our students above average with the stroke of the presidential pen, you’re not alone. The 100 percent proficiency goal of NCLB is now widely acknowledged to be a pipe dream. Recent trends indicate that schools are not even headed in the right direction; and, in much of the press, the 100 percent proficiency goal has become something of the punch line of a joke. Meanwhile, in a move that tacitly acknowledges the unworkability of the current law, the Department of Education is granting NCLB waivers to states which will make it easier for them to skirt the requirements."

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"Texas is where the failed policies of NCLB, along with an almost pathological obsession with testing, had their start.

"For the past two decades, excessive emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and a one-size-fits-all focus on preparing all students for college came to dominate education policy in Texas and later, in Washington, D.C. with the passage of the Bush-Kennedy “No Child Left Behind” legislation. In addition, vocational education came to be neglected—even denigrated—in this massive push to make all students “college-ready.” Meanwhile, the principle of local control over education (which historically had been a deeply-held belief of Goldwater-Reagan Conservatives) was abandoned by Republican politicians in Texas and Washington, D.C., in their rush to be known as “educational reformers.”

"The principal architect of Texas’s accountability system was a lawyer from Dallas named Sandy Kress. The most thorough analysis of Kress’s role in pushing Texas’s education policy in the direction of a high-stakes testing system was one written by Mark Donald for the October 19, 2000 issue in the Dallas Observer right before George W. Bush’s election to the presidency. Entitled “The Resurrection of Sandy Kress,” Donald’s article described how Democrat Kress and Republican Bush came to be close allies in pushing Kress’s vision of “educational accountability.”

"Moreover, Sandy had not exactly distinguished himself in the early 1990s when he chaired the board of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD), during one of the most tumultuous periods in DISD history.

"Many students get frustrated with the current one-size-fits-all test-based system with its emphasis on pushing everyone towards college; and they drop out because they don’t see education as relevant to them.

"Texas policy-makers are coming to the realization that the high-stakes accountability system is fundamentally flawed.

"Even longtime proponents of high-stakes, standardized testing are starting to question the wisdom of the current system of school accountability. As reported by Paul Burka in Texas Monthly, the former commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, Robert Scott, made this startling admission in a speech to the Texas Association of School Administrators: “I believe that testing is good for some things, but the system that we have created has become a perversion of its original intent, the intent to improve teaching and learning. The intent to improve teaching and learning has gone too far afield, and I look forward to reeling it back in.

Alexander "Sandy" Kress
Partner, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, L.L.P.
Alexander "Sandy" Kress is an attorney at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld & LLP in Austin, Texas, focusing on public law and policy at the state and national levels. He formerly served as an education advisor to President George W. Bush. Prior to that, he served as president of the board of trustees of the Dallas Independent School District.