Dr. Joni Lakin is a testing expert and Assistant Professor in the College of Education at Auburn University.  She evaluates tests to see if they are biased or asking the right questions to the right audience.  Or as we would say in Covington County, “she knows her stuff.”

Which is why this statement jumped off the page as I read this article about her and the work she does.

“This act seems to be modelled on NCLB—like NCLB for the state.”

She is referring to the increasingly infamous RAISE/PREP act that was introduced last week in the Alabama Senate.  And NCLB is No Child Left  Behind, the national law adopted under President George W. Bush in 2001.  The same law that turned classrooms into little more than test taking labs in the mad rush to make certain all children were equally brilliant by 2014.  A law that was more applicable to Lake Wobegon where all children are “above average” than the real world.

A law that was greeted with cheers when it came into being and was cheered even more loudly as it recently faded into the sunset with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

I seriously doubt you could find a single experienced teacher in Alabama who would sing the praises of NCLB.  But now we have lawmakers who want to bring its personification back?  (Oops, I forgot.  Our lawmakers don’t talk to our teachers before they introduce education policy.)

Here is more from this article:

“When I was in graduate school, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was the nation’s educational policy for public schools. We focused on how that bill took high-stakes testing to another level.  NCLB put a lot of pressure on teachers and tied school appropriations to the success of test results, which was a major way teachers and administrators were then evaluated.

However, then test experts began noticing that instead of focusing on no child being left behind, the focus was on a very narrow slice of the student population.

The talk was all ‘bubble students.’  The idea was to move everyone up between categories of proficiency, so the kids who were on the bubble got all the attention to get them over the cut score. That’s good in one way, but if you were far above or far below the cut, you were basically irrelevant. Ultimately, the people who designed NCLB knew full well that not every school could hit 100 percent. So teachers had to tread water and teach to the test and wait and see when the law would change.

One of the big issues out there in terms of testing is that public schools must test all of their students, whereas certain charter schools might find ways to exclude English learners, for example, or students with disabilities.

The big conspiracy theory behind NCLB, of course, was that it was designed to discredit public schools and push charters and other forms of school privatization. Everyone knows that you can never reach 100 percent proficiency, especially in poorer school districts. But in an exclusive school you can reach 100 percent.

I’ve done some work on student growth models for accountability and they are highly problematic.  Depending on the test, we sometimes see that the most able students don’t show any growth year-to-year because they are already scoring highly on the test.  These VAM scores are also found to be highly unreliable. Multiple years of data would be needed to make reasonably reliable decisions. There’s just a lot that doesn’t work about VAM models.

Unfortunately VAM is one of the major components of RAISE/PREP.  Which obviously means that lawmakers never talked to Dr. Larkin either.