Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Accountability as Testing: Are There Lessons about Assessment and Outcomes to Be Learnt from No Child Left Behind?

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Accountability as Testing: Are There Lessons about Assessment and Outcomes to Be Learnt from No Child Left Behind?

Article excerpt

An earlier version of this paper appeared in the Professional Magazine, 22 (Nov, 2007) published by the Queensland Teachers' Union, Brisbane

The fact that debate has continued over literacy teaching for the past three years since the 2005 release of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading (2005), and that recent rearticulations of the Report's findings by its lead author (See for example Milburn, 2008) continue to take headline space, reminds us that literacy education remains a contentious policy and pedagogic issue for communities, schools, systems, teachers and students--and for politicians. During the past three to four year period we've all watched the latest literacy crisis play out in the pages of our newspapers and television current affairs shows. This crisis has predictably led to policy and curriculum initiatives offering simplistic solutions to the latest perceived problems. Under the last Conservative Federal Government, these Australian media and policy responses paralleled the debates in the United States over the No Child Left Behind Act (United States of America, 2001). So in a context where accountability is being narrowly framed as testing, and literacy likewise framed as basic decoding skills, are there lessons to be learnt for Australian teachers and policy makers in the No Child Left Behind legislation?

Research dispelling the success of NCLB has been available since its inception, but more recently the official reports have been calling the policy decisions implemented as part of this legislation into question. Political support for both NCLB and the Reading First program is beginning to waver. In this short paper we first lay out a brief introduction to the NCLB legislation and its policy effects. We document the official results and the critiques. We then suggest some lessons that Australian policy-makers and educators must consider, as the decision about how best to promote a high quality/high equity system for all Australian school children is made in the new political context. We aim to offer a scientific and bibliographical resource for teachers who wish to engage with the debate.

What is No Child Left Behind?

The No Child Left Behind Act (United States of America, 2001) (NCLB) began from a focus on improved quality of early literacy acquisition. It was launched as a bipartisan move for US schooling to address criticisms of lagging literacy standards and a growing achievement gap for students from diverse backgrounds. A significant assumption behind the policy is that a program of teaching basic literacy code breaking skills and regular testing can generate more equitable results and better achievement by students from cultural and linguistic minority and lower socio-economic backgrounds. NCLB is based on four basic principles: increased accountability; increased flexibility and local control; expanded options for parents and teaching methods based on a 'gold standard evidence base' (www.ed.gov/ programs/readingfirst/legislation.html). The legislation sets out a regime of accountability as standardised testing and public reporting, with a drive toward consistency across system and school contexts. What will count as evidence-based pedagogy is set by mandating scripted, highly prescriptive reading curriculum programs and methods, approved by the Federal government. We have chosen here to not enter the debate related to the ongoing conflict-of-interest controversies about the US Federal government selection of programs for funding (Grunwald, 2006) which continue to rage in the US and that is a matter of ongoing contention in Congressional hearings.

Within NCLB, compliance in relation to teaching methods and testing measures is controlled through sanctions and incentives provided for districts, schools, and teachers. Parental school choice is set up as a way to let the market drive the system: provide the facts about individual school performance and the market will decide. …

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