The train wreck of a law that is No Child Left Behind keeps piling up its testing requirements on students and there’s much more to come. Right now the law requires schools to test students in reading and math in grades 3, 5 and 8. Starting next school year, students must pass standardized tests in those areas every year in grades 3 through 8, with science tests coming in 2007. Wonderful! Six straight years of teaching to a test!

The over emphasis on standardized testing instead of teaching in NCLB is bad enough but the federal government is also doing very little to help the states understand and meet the requirements of the law. It’s already been pretty well documented (to most everyone except Secretary of Education Page – creator of "Texas education miracles") that Congress has failed to adequately fund the provisions of NCLB.

Now a report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) that the rules used to measure progress under the law vary widely from state to state, each of which was allowed to create their own standards, making national comparisons meaningless. On top of that, many state officials have received little or misleading guidance from the Department of Education so that they’re uncertain of how to obtain full approval for their assessment plans under the law. The Department, of course, says the report is incorrect and everything is just fine.

This story came to mind today as I sat through a training session on a database that our overly large school district is using to keep track of the huge amount of standardized testing data on our students. Getting the material out of the system our IT folks have created is bad enough, but trying to understand the reports as they apply to the NCLB requirements is going to be a real party for teachers and administrators alike.

Even without the data, the good teachers know which of their students are not doing well and are already working to help them. The bad teachers don’t know, won’t get any help from this system, and should be fired anyway. Which leaves the teachers in the middle for whom the data might be useful, if they are given the time and assistance to understand it. In the end, however, all the emphasis on data analysis simply reinforces the idea that it’s the test that matters, not teaching and learning.