America's "Failing" Schools: How Parents Can Cope With No Child Left Behind
reviewed by John Criswell - 2004
Title: America's "Failing" Schools: How Parents Can Cope With No Child Left Behind
Author(s): W. James Popham
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415949475, Pages: 157, Year: 2004
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The author intended for this text to be an informational resource for parents, educators, policy makers and others who are interested in the quality of our schools. Without question, this book successfully addresses the informational needs of those stakeholders---an accomplishment that should not go unappreciated. Writing style, chapter length, and clear examples contribute to the book’s readability across different audiences. Perhaps its most salient feature is the presentation of information in form and amount that permits readers to understand the central issues without being overwhelmed by psychometric terms and administrative language.
The Introduction presents four important goals of the author:
The content of the book is organized into three major parts that the reader will quickly recognize as aligned with the goals of the author. The three parts, The No Child Left Behind Act, Educational Tests: The Heart of the Matter, and
Part I, The No Child Left Behind Act, is divided into three chapters. Chapter 1 addresses the law’s testing requirements, adequate yearly progress, report cards, and sanctions. This section introduces the reader to the aspects of NCLB that are fundamental to understanding its purposes and critical inferences. For persons who are closely involved with NCLB there are few surprises or revelations.
Chapter 2 is devoted to developing an understanding of the important aspects of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The reader gains insight into the use of AYP, its development and the variations of its definition from state to state. AYP is discussed from a cautious perspective, citing its usefulness and its potential misuse.
Chapter 3, Report Cards and Sanctions, provides the reader with an overview of the state and district-level reporting requirements followed by NCLB labels and sanctions. The last pages of this chapter that discuss the federal intent support one of the author’s major premises---that the success of NCLB is based on the worth of the tests that are used to implement the federal law.
Part II, Educational Tests: The Heart of the Matter, addresses the basic challenges to contemporary educational testing, the mismatch of tests with their purposes, current standards-based testing, and instructionally supportive accountability tests. Important measurement terms are discussed using language and examples that are understandable to persons having minimal experiences with standardized testing.
Chapter 4, Some Nuts and Bolts of Educational Testing, discusses terms that include inference-making, relative and absolute scores, standard error of measurement, and the test item formats that frequently appear on standards-based assessments. The differences associated with aptitude and achievement are discussed. The chapter is aptly named.
Chapter 5, Measuring Temperature with Tablespoons, points out the negative consequences that may be a direct result of evaluating the quality of schools with inappropriate educational tests. Consideration of the harmful consequences includes curricular reductionism, excessive test preparation, and unethical test preparation practices. The author argues that traditionally constructed standardized achievement tests shouldn’t be used as an instrument to evaluate schools. Straightforward explanations are especially clarifying for readers who may have different training and experience levels with current achievement tests.
Chapter 6 Today’s Standards-Based Tests reviews the development of standards and the subsequent standards-based accountability measures. The author points up the difficulty of accurately assessing the large number of standards that frequently appear as state frameworks for curriculum development. Current standards-based tests are panned for limitations that may include sampling and reporting problems.
Instructionally Supportive Tests, Chapter 7, details features and processes that must be present for accountability measures to be more reflective of teaching and learning that occurs in classrooms. This chapter is based on the work of the Independent Commission on Instructionally Supportive Assessment of which the author was a participant.
Part III, Evaluating Schools, discusses evidence needed to evaluate schools, student affect, and a particular school’s quality. In Chapter 8, Evidence Needed to Evaluate Schools, the author suggests that a more acceptable inference can be drawn about the success or lack of success of schools when multiple assessment data are employed. Four types of data are presented with a rationale of how they provide for a more informed judgment of school success. These include instructionally supportive accountability tests, student work samples, affective data, and non-academic indicators.
Chapter 9 is devoted to student affect, its definition, and appropriate data collection instrumentation and processes. The author is careful to differentiate values and attitudes that are appropriate for school and those that are best developed at home. Suggestions are made for the collection and interpretation of data.
Chapter 10, Determining a School’s Quality, begins with review and explanation of student work samples and non-test indicators of success. The author’s intent is to show that although the NCLB provides a framework for designating whether a school is failing or not, it does not insure mistake-free inferences. Three scenarios are provided for the reader to practice the evaluation of school success using multiple forms of evidence. These scenarios could easily be used as an instructional activity.
The final section, Conclusions, What to do Now, provides the reader with resources to develop a plan to re-assess the inferences drawn from NCLB concerning the success of schools. Questions are listed for the reader to determine the quality of their state’s standards-based tests. Another section is devoted to assisting parents with determining the quality of their school beyond NCLB’s indicators.
In sum, the book is worthwhile reading for educators, parents, and policymakers. I believe that some educators may find the contents of the text to be shallow and accuse the author of evading arguments that address the fundamental purposes of schooling and curriculum. On the other hand, I’m convinced that a greater number of educators will find this text to be the type of resource that is necessary to help in the development of assessment literate populations. Parents will find this text to be understandable and helpful in guiding their actions as the affects of NCLB begin to impact their children’s lives. Policy makers will be able to use this as a primary resource that could guide their decision making in sophisticated areas that generally exceed their experiences or preparation.