In the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal, a writer takes a serious look at the techniques W and friends are using to judge the progress (or lack thereof) of NCLB.

He finds that an awful lot of credibility being left behind.

The statistics in the piece get a little thick but he still does a great job of making the point that the assessment methods being used by the federal government are totally wrong.

A pass percentage is a bad standard for educational progress. Conceptually, “proficiency” has no objective meaning that lends itself to a cutoff. Administratively, the NCLB penalties for failure to make adequate progress give the states powerful incentives to make progress as easy to show as possible. A pass percentage throws away valuable information, telling you whether someone got over a bar, but not how high the bar was set or by how much the bar was cleared. Most importantly: If you are trying to measure progress in closing group differences, a comparison of changes in pass percentages is inherently misleading.

Simple percentages are great for media headlines but they don’t tell the whole story of the very complex group of students who attend every school in the country.

Beyond numbers, however, there are several other non-statistical illustrations the writer uses to demonstrate just how lousy NCLB is as national educational policy.

Test scores are the last refuge of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). They have to be, because so little else about the act is attractive.

NCLB takes a giant step toward nationalizing elementary and secondary education, a disaster for federalism. It pushes classrooms toward relentless drilling, not something that inspires able people to become teachers or makes children eager to learn. It holds good students hostage to the performance of the least talented, at a time when the economic future of the country depends more than ever on the performance of the most talented.

And then there is the effect on teachers, who, whether NCLB fans like it or not, are the key to quality education.

Is it too early to tell? As a parent who has had children in public schools since NCLB began, I don’t think so. The Frederick County, Md., schools our children have attended have turned themselves inside out to try to produce the right test results, with dismaying effects on the content of classroom instruction and devastating effects on teacher morale. We actually lost our best English teacher to the effects of high-stakes testing. “I want to teach my students how to write,” he said, “not teach them how to pass a test that says they can write.” He quit.

Unfortunately, he’s probably not the only one who’s given up on teaching due to the frustrations of the all-testing-all-the-time philosophy of NCLB.

nclb, education, statistics