Increasing student achievement is dependent upon what happens in the classroom -- it's called instruction. It's too bad that President Bush's No Child left Behind legislation does not recognize that simple fact.
Like a lot of other legislation around the country, educational reform has been generally built on the three legs of creating new standards, testing and accountability. Without addressing classroom instruction, what you have is the dog chasing its tail.
Standards are set, testing is done, schools are categorized. The whole idea behind the educational reform movement was to make American students competitive with their foreign counterparts, which meant to increase student achievement. To make that happen, you have to address what is happening in the classroom.
Far too many in education are still trying to buy the silver bullet, some program that will solve the problem for them. They are so dumb, you just want to go over and pat their little heads to comfort them. Others will hear of a "program" that works somewhere and will want to adopt it with little or no regard to see if it will fit into their community.
While replicating a successful program has merit, if it doesn't fit, then it's a waste of time. For example, a ski rental business might be very successful at a ski lodge in the mountains, it might not be so successful in the desert. In fact, the business plan might have to be different for that business to succeed in a different geographic location.
Those are the two most prominent shortcuts being used in educational reform. The third is the making a big splash -- creating a lot of sound bites, getting the publicity and creating a program that sounds good --but nothing more.
The state of Ohio has just witnessed a little of that in its much-touted Ohio Reads program. Scores in reading on their fourth-grade proficiency test dropped in more than half the schools involved in the program. Whoops! Many school superintendents and school administrators have favorite programs. The people delivering the program like it, the people taking the program feel good about it, the program provides administrative cover so it appears the school is addressing a problem, so administrators like it. Everyone seems to be happy because the identified problem is being addressed.
But a program's value should not be answered by whether or not everyone likes the program. The only criteria that matters is if the students' performance has increased. Are scores up, are the children's reading levels increasing? Is the program working? If the program is not doing the job, either get rid of it or modify it.
Too often failed favorite programs continue because they look good, sound good,and provide cover. Project DARE is a good example. A drug prevention program that for years research has clearly indicated does not work. But there it is. And we're happy about it?
I believe classroom instruction is the key to increasing student achievement; however, standards, testing, and accountability are also parts of the puzzle.
Having said that, the immediate impact of President Bush's Leave No Child Behind legislation is that many states, including Nevada, will have to lower their academic standards to meet the new federal guidelines or be faced with 80 or 90 percent of the schools not meeting adequately yearly progress. The idea that each state determines proficiency in the federal legislation allows each state to play with how proficiency is defined.
Nevada's Educational Reform Act will have to be addressed to comply with federal guidelines. The old axiom, "What is tested is what is taught," will weigh heavily on the minds of people trying to comply with the law.
Make no doubt that testing in Nevada, cut scores for passing and how proficiency is defined on those tests, will have to be addressed. If what is happening in other states is the beginning of a national trend, Nevadans can expect a lowering of scores needed for passing those tests and a lowering of the definition of proficient.
It appears proficiency, because its not defined in the federal law, will be determined more by geography than academic standards.