Amidst the craziness of waiting for a royal baby, (Welcome, George, by the way), and halfway through a well deserved summer break, many educationally interested individuals like myself can be forgiven for missing a fairly quiet announcement out of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 19th about the passage of a bill entitled H.R. 5 : Student Success Act. However, if this bill gets through senate and ends up signed by President Obama, it may well be another major blow to those in this country who support the increasing of standardization practices and high stakes testing for students.
Now, I must confess, I did not stumble across this development through studious monitoring of American politics. The recent layoffs of hundreds of teachers in the Chicago area and the impact the bankruptcy of Detroit will have on that city’s education system have been my areas of focus these past few weeks. It wasn’t until I received a message from a fellow blogger stateside that I took note of the issue. And it is, I have to tell you, a welcome bit of fresh air in what has been an otherwise educationally oppressive summer.
Although not garnering a great deal of Canadian mid-summer press, Bill H.R.5 carries within its 500 odd pages a fairly hefty series of changes to educational practice in the US. The one that caught my eye and perhaps one of the most significant changes is its intent to remove the Adequate Yearly Progress (A.Y.P.) requirement for American schools and the accompanying, federally prescribed, school improvement and turnaround intervention programs.
For those who may not know, the A.Y.P. is the mechanism by which schools, districts and states are held “accountable” in the US for their students’ “achievement”. This is one of the key instruments from the “No Child Left Behind” era , and it is an instrument that has left American education in shambles. Essentially, schools have been made to administer high stakes, externally created standardized tests to their students. If schools fail to meet the prescribed A.Y.P. marker two years in a row, they could be deemed a school for “improvement”. If a school receives this denomination, then a series of sanctions could be levied, including such things as notifying parents, offering students a chance to transfer to a different school in the district, and sometimes a “restructuring” in the school itself. The A.Y.P. has also been directly tied to school funding.
High stakes indeed.
Now, I’m no expert on the American Education system, nor do I pretend to be. But, as someone who follows trends in education, the abolition of this practice seems good news. As Canada tends to follow the US, there has been a very real concern that this style of “get results or get out” education would soon flood our schools. Standardizationists have long touted this type of testing as a means of providing “accountability” in education. Peter Crowley, director of school performance studies at the Fraser Institute, appears as one such advocate. He told the Canadian Press in early June that kids should do well on these types of tests if teachers are doing their jobs. If this is so, then it would hold true that if kids do not do well on these tests, teachers are not doing their jobs. In such a system, excellence in education becomes about the test results, not the students.
It is somewhat telling of the motivations driving this system that the authors of Bill H.R.5 saw the need to include an amendment that forbids testing company lobbyists from serving on certain US state advisory boards that deal with, of all things, testing.
Thankfully, Canada’s education system has managed to survive ten odd years of pressure to adopt some sort of A.Y.R. model for our schools. Nova Scotia has made some recent changes to its large-scale assessment practices, and even Alberta seems to be softening its stance on the issue. If our luck holds, this model may indeed wither away to a well deserved and long overdue demise.
We are not out of the woods yet, however. My American counterpart seemed doubtful that the Bill would actually make it through The Senate, its final stop, I believe, before getting signed by the President. Still, I take heart. It seems that the standards craze may finally be running its course, and maybe, just maybe, we will begin to see a return to the days of true teacher autonomy.
That is one trend that I would gladly welcome across the border with open arms.