Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Grains of salt

You'll hear state officials talk loudly and often about the fact that 87 percent of Alabama public schools were found to be making adequate progress under the No Child Left Behind Act in numbers released Monday. That's the understandable reaction to an admirable 53 percent jump in performance over the prior year.

The enthusiasm should be tempered, though, with a recognition that changes in the calculation method for 2005-06 -- most notably the award of half-credit for students whose ability to read and do math at grade level fell into the "close but no cigar" camp -- eased the path for schools to achieve their goals. (In fairness, the change makes some sense, considering that education is an ongoing process rather than a one-time, all-or-nothing affair.)

That's not even to mention the fact that NCLB allows individual states to decide what constitutes a passing grade in the first place. (Again, not necessarily a problem, given that education is historically a state-level function.) Of course, there's also the fact that we're measuring school success or failure based largely on standards from an act that pretty much guarantees that every school in the country will be in violation by 2014 unless the passing grade is whittled down to practically nothing, but we'll save that matter for another day.

Alabama schools' higher satisfaction of the NCLB standards is doubtless a good thing. But we must be careful not to treat standardized tests as the sole arbiter of school quality. There's more to education than knowing which bubble to darken.

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