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Bruno: Include Science Testing In The NCLB Rewrite

This is a guest commentary from middle school science teacher Paul Bruno, who tweets at @MrPABruno:

Map-of-Science-954x907It's easy for wishes to get out of hand, so as NCLB reauthorization makes its way ever so gradually through the halls of government in Washington I've been keeping my hopes modest.  

Given that President Barack Obama, likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney, the House GOP , and both parties in the Senate all support the use of standardized tests in math and reading for accountability purposes, it seems very likely that, for better or for worse, the eventual legislation will continue to require them.

Meanwhile, reform critics have long argued that NCLB's math and reading requirements for making Adequate Yearly Progress encourage schools to narrow their curriculum to focus on those subjects at the expense of others like science, history, and art.  (NCLB does require states to test students periodically in science, but those scores are not factored into AYP calculations.)

With all of that in mind, I had been holding out hope that the "new" NCLB legislation would expand accountability requirements to include, at a minimum, science and history.  Indeed, the Obama administration had made some gestures in that direction in the past.  

Lo and behold, however, the draft legislation released by House Republicans last week dropped NCLB's science testing requirement altogether, leaving math and reading as the only subjects with federally-mandated tests.


Curriculum narrowing already appears to be a problem across the country, and arguably many schools and states are officially underemphasizing the importance of subjects that aren't ELA or math.  (Science, for example, counts for only 6-7% of the Academic Performance Index score that California calculates for its K-8 schools.  ELA scores count for over half of the API in those grades, though weights are more proportional at the high school level.)  And as counterproductive as it may be to cut other subjects for the sake of boosting reading scores - there's no such thing as a reading test, after all - it's hard to see how narrowing the focus of accountability at the federal level won't exacerbate the problem.

If we're going to have an accountability regime that depends significantly on standardized tests of student performance - a reality about which I am ambivalent - then I hope we're at least going to take a broad view of what subjects are worth testing.  In the last few days that hope has dimmed somewhat.  - PB (@MrPABruno)


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Testing science would limit the definition of science to only testable content, as would happen to social studies, gutting social critique and service learning in favor of names, dates, and places.

I agree with you that such a reality - depending significantly on standardized tests of student performance - is an issue in and of itself. Besides that, I believe you are right to worry about certain subjects falling by the wayside.

I went through grade school in the 7th Ward of New Orleans in the 1950s, as I discuss and critique in my book "Cherished Memories", and what struck me about school was not the testing but rather the sense of commonality and community that lead to student success.

Our principles, teachers, and parents expected high performance from us, and that is what we collectively produced, as shown by my follow-up research in the past decade. It was a case of the community impacting the school and vice versa, rather than the government impacting everyone, as it seems to be these days.

@Chalk Face - It seems to me that would depend significantly on the nature of the test (although I can't speak to social studies with as much confidence). I also think the bigger concern at the moment is the *complete* marginalization of science under whatever accountability regime comes out of Washington.

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