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No Educator Left Behind: Testing vs. Learning

No Educator Left Behind is a series providing answers from the U.S. Department of Education to questions about the federal No Child Left Behind Act and how it will affect educators. If you have a question about No Child Left Behind, send an e-mail to Ellen Delisio, and we will submit your question to the Department of Education.

Question:

How can the testing required by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act adequately demonstrate what students are learning in the classroom?

U.S. Department of Education:

Perhaps a better question is, how can we be sure, through the various mechanisms of NCLB, that our children are learning what they need to know to succeed in the world today?

The No Child Left Behind Act ensures that, through standards-based education, all children will be taught the essential skills and knowledge they need, and that everyone will know whether they are learning those skills and knowledge.

Through an open process conducted by the individual states, 49 states have set challenging academic standards for student learning in at least reading/language arts and mathematics. To see if students are learning what they are being taught, state assessments must measure student progress towards mastering an established base of knowledge and skills. That is what is meant by "aligning standards, instruction, and assessments."

The nationally respected National Assessment Governing Board appointed a National Commission on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 12th Grade Assessment and Reporting. The 20-member group of experts from the fields of K-12 and higher education, business, and the military, voiced support for standards-based instruction and standards-based assessments as vehicles to help educators ensure that they teach the essential knowledge each young person needs.

Members of the advisory group, during a meeting covered by the trade publication Education Daily, rejected the notion that standards-based instruction and standards-based assessment would result in "teaching to the test" -- but added that those system must be aligned with high academic standards. That opinion mirrors the views expressed by distinguished educators and policymakers since the 1983 publication of the seminal report, "A Nation at Risk." It also reflects the views expressed during the 1989 Education Summit with then-President George H.W. Bush and the nation's governors, which resulted in the National Education Goals. Over the years, school reformers, scholars, and business leaders have consistently voiced support for standards-based reform.

A challenging curriculum that is aligned to assessments -- with standards, assessments and instruction updated as needed -- gives educators, students, and communities a clear understanding of what students must know and be able to do, and of how close they are to achieving those targets. This philosophy is embodied in No Child Left Behind.

Read previous questions and answers in our No Educator Left Behind archive.

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