School Testing Systems Should Be Examined In 2014

Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education

School Testing Systems Should Be Examined In 2014
December 26, 2013

The United States has spent a decade trying to improve the standing of its schools compared to the rest of the world. Education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond says the result is disappointing.

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: We’re actually not doing any better than we were doing a decade ago. In fact, the PISA tests, the international assessments, just came out a couple of weeks ago, and basically the story for the United States over the last decade or more is flatline.

GREENE: Darling-Hammond advised President Obama, but she’s dismayed to see his administration continue the high-stakes testing introduced with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. Darling-Hammond now directs Stanford University’s Center for Opportunity in Education.

INSKEEP: So is the lesson here that we’re just going to leave some children behind?

DARLING-HAMMOND: Well, the bar that was set was a completely unrealistic bar. The proficiency level is above grade level. It’s kind of like striving to be Lake Woebegone, you know, where everybody is above average. It’s not a realistic goal, and there are lots of elements of the law that are unattainable. For example, English learners are taken out of that category when they become proficient. So that category of students can never become 100 percent proficient, because as they become proficient, we no longer count them.

DARLING-HAMMOND: Well, you know, in general, our schools do better with the challenges they have to face, than I think is trued of most high-achieving nations around the world. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty, mortality, lack of health care, homelessness of any developed country in the world at this point. And we have unequal funding, so that we give more money to the education of rich kids than poor kids.

So our affluent districts in schools do quite well, and are still the envy of many in the world. Our low-income schools and districts are struggling with all these responsibilities and challenges and very little and inadequate public support. And yet, they perform extraordinarily well, given the circumstances they have to meet.

INSKEEP: Education is the way out of poverty. Listening to you, it sounds like you actually would suggest that that’s exactly backwards, that, in fact, attacking poverty might be a way to improve education.

DARLING-HAMMOND: I think that both things are true, that certainly good education is a way out of poverty. That means we have to provide equitable education to kids in low-income communities. At the same time, until we address some of these issues that adhere to poverty itself – kids coming to school without health care, often without homes, without the supports in the communities – we’re going to spend a lot more money in education try to address those problems. The two are completely intertwined, and we have to work on both at the same time.

The trends of global education.
January 25, 2013
Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University.
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