Unfortunately, most likely, Congressional reauthorization of NCLB will I suspect follow the usual approach: lobbyist wishes accepted automatically by members of Congress - with eventual meaningless compromised legislation passed following bitter party infighting. Why should this legislation be any different from others?
So, in this posting, I'm offering a few of my thoughts - believing a few educators might see them, event comment on them possibly, at most:
1. It's not the standardized test that's bad; it's the format of the test and uses of the test that are bad. The reliance on facts recall must be expanded to allow evaluation of the capability to use and build upon those CORE facts (I.e., the level of effective learning). The most important uses of the test outcomes need to be assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each student's effective learning capabilities as well as input to system discussions of refinement of learning objectives and pedagogy. Less valuable but possible input (but not only input) to system or state or even teacher / administrator effectiveness might also be uses for outcomes - AS LONG AS THE METHODOLOGY FOR SUCH USE IS TESTED AND VERIFIED AS APPROPRIATE.
2. The legislation should clearly and directly prohibit any teaching to the test. Teachers should know and utilize the testing format in the classroom assessment to familiarize students with the format. Also, parents and families should know of the testing times to optimize honest participation. Such efforts need to be documented. No other "links" to the tests should be allowed.
3. At a minimum, each grade, school, or system should be required to document curricular / pedagogical guidelines (based on core standards) as well as the procedures used and outcomes developed by community discussions and planning involving any and all interested parties. These guidelines, compatible with the core standards should be required to be based upon published and accepted learning research with references provided.
4. The development of school, system, or state curriculum plans should be prohibited. Following the efforts suggested in #3 above with considerations made and documented relative to student needs, teachers should develop individual pedagogical approaches for the students involved. Careful attention to and development of appropriate assessment must be made, used, evaluated, and documented as to meaning and usefulness of approaches taken and input to subsequent revision of approaches.
5. The efforts of schools outlined above should first be analyzed by the individual teachers with regard to their self-assessment of progress and suggestions for revision. Subsequently, the teacher effort documentation and documentation should be first reviewed WITH (not just by) administrators. Following an administrator summary of school / system status and development of school / system recommended areas for improvement, all materials to date should be reviewed by at least sub-groups from the community effort of #3 above periodically for another community-wide effort as in #3.
6. Having now closed the loop, this process should be continued following the stepwise procedure outlined.
7. The subjects assessed should go beyond mathematics, reading / writing and include at a minimum science / engineering, history / civics, and geography / ecology. Not subject to standardized testing but maybe portfolio development, topics such as art, physical education, and personal financial capability should be subject to regular review as well.
8. Emphasis should be on encouraging all involved by celebrating improvement and contributing to broader and increased improvement. The only punative or negative impact should be for those who will not or cannot engage in personal improvement.
I can almost hear the cries and/or laughter already: How in the world will we ever have time to do these things even if we agree it would be a good approach? I will argue that motivated engagement by everyone involved can make it happen. Consider the following:
A. I maintain that many teachers already routinely do many of the things I've suggested. The additional time needed will come from time NOT needed to deal with the distractions: based upon reaserch in learning and involving efforts that will motivate student engagement, less attention will be necessary to deal with the negative items.
B. My experiences suggest that, yes, these suggestions will take effort initially but subsequent revisions will be less demanding. AND the improved student effective learning by ever increasing numbers of students will make it less burdensome.
C. Not every step should be done each year for sure; remember that the goal is improved student learning. It is certain that such efforts will always be "works in progress" AND that it is the rate of individual / school / system / state improvement that matters most. All involved should be given meaningful time to allow for false starts or failures. What really matters is that the documentation of planning, implementation, assessment, and refinement enables all aspects to be reviewed for effectiveness. Of course, teacher-level efforts should be made yearly or even more frequently. Administration informal feedback might occur more frequently with formal review maybe every two or three years. Sub-groups from the larger interested community might also be involved more frequently but should engage formally every four or six years. Community reports should then be prepared for each formal review and sent to the state for statewide considerations.
D. With formal community reports every four or six years, likely done by sub-groups of the larger community, there should be ample time to stagger the timeline for each subject area - further reducing the demands on time from any one set of individuals or groups / sub-groups.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT ADDING BURDEN TO TEACHERS OR ANY OTHERS INVOLVED. THIS IS ABOUT FACILITATING MEANINGFUL LEARNING FOR OUR STUDENTS. NOTICE I HAVE NOT OUTLINED ANY RESPONSIBILITIES FOR THE CONGRESS OR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT; THERE SHOULD BE ONLY ONE: THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHOULD ACCEPT PROPOSALS FOR RESOURCES - WITH SUCCESSFUL PROPOSALS BEING THOSE HAVING AND JUSTIFYING PLANS FOR USE.
THE ONLY REASON FOR THE STEPWISE REPORTING SUGGESTIONS IS TO INSURE MEANINGFUL EFFORTS AT EACH LEVEL. ACCEPTABILITY SHOULD BE BASED UPON DOCUMENTATION OF PLANS, IMPLEMENTATION, RESULTS / OURCOMES, ASSESSMENT AND ANALYSIS, AS WELL AS REFINEMENT - ALL BEING EQUALLY IMPORTANT!