Several years ago, I decided to lose weight.
Seventy-two pounds later, I can tell you that achieving success
did not require more trips to the scale, but did require changing
my habits to eat less and move more. Oh, I certainly did weigh
myself regularly - but once a week, not every day. I balanced
the need to measure my progress with a greater need to make
daily changes in my behavior to reach my goal.
We have a similar situation regarding the approach Connecticut
wants to take to achieve the goal of leaving no child behind.
Despite requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, we know
that we do not have to test statewide more than we already do.
We do have to continue to test what is important, reasonable
and challenging at regular intervals. We do have to provide the
programs - such as high-quality preschool for all our needy 3-
and 4-year-olds, and rigorous curriculum and instruction with
assessments throughout - that will raise our students' achievement.
We must balance the need to measure our students' progress statewide
with the need to provide daily, high-quality programs that will
lead to our goal.
More than two decades ago
- long before the No Child Left Behind Act was a gleam in federal
policy-makers' eyes - the education commissioner, the state
Board of Education and the General Assembly decided to address "the two Connecticuts" and
instituted the Connecticut Mastery Test. We decided to measure
our students' academic performance in reading, writing and
mathematics in grades 4, 6 and 8. We decided not just to present
the results for Connecticut students as a whole, but also to
identify the achievement differences among groups of students
- white, black, Hispanic, wealthy and disadvantaged, male and
female. We have produced these results annually since 1984
at the student, classroom, school, district and state levels.
So, given our assessment system, how well do our students fare
on national measures of achievement? Results of the National
Assessment of Educational Progress, which is administered to
a representative group of students in every state, allow direct
comparisons of student achievement state by state in reading,
writing and math. The most recent results show that our youngsters
do exceedingly well.
Take Grade 4 reading. Students in five states scored statistically
equal to one another and significantly higher than all other
states. Connecticut was one of these five. In fact, Connecticut
fourth-grade reading performance (ranked by raw scores) is at
the very top. White Connecticut fourth-graders shared top honors
with their counterparts in only two other states and again were
at the top of the states listed by raw scores. Black students
in only two states scored significantly higher than Connecticut's
black students, and no other state's Hispanic students scored
significantly higher than ours.
Our results in writing are even more impressive: Connecticut's
Grade 4 writing scores stand alone above all other states' -
both when we look at the achievement of all our students as a
group and when we look at the achievement of our white students
separately. The scores of our black and Hispanic Grade 4 students
are equal to or higher than those of their counterparts in all
I could go on about our math results in Grade 4 and about all
results in Grade 8. Suffice it to say that our white students
do extremely well compared with the rest of the nation, and our
black and Hispanic students, although performing at lower levels
than our white students, score about the same as or better than
their counterparts in most other states.
We have large achievement gaps - larger than many other states
- not because our black and Hispanic students score poorly, but
because our white students score way ahead of those in most other
states. This reality, however, does not excuse these gaps. Connecticut
has been working hard to close them for many years.
So why, given Connecticut
students' extremely strong showing, would we want to spend
an additional $8 million to test grades 3, 5 and 7, as the
No Child Left Behind law is requiring us to do? Why would we
want to measure more to find out what we already know? Why
wouldn't we want to spend that money on proven programs instead?
Ask Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. She says she
has the answer: No Child Left Behind is the law, and we should "know
better" than to question it. But I, for one, will continue
to do so.
Betty J. Sternberg is state commissioner of education.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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