Thursday, September 14, 2006

NCLB & College Readiness: Aligning Standards, Aligning Goals

Given all this, I find it surprising that now the emphasis of the national debate and rhetoric regarding assessment has turned to “college readiness” and “high school reform.” In fact, many predominate national policy people that I speak with have stated that being successful in college is the “end game.” I don’t disagree that college readiness is important, and I admit there is good research showing that students are not, in general, prepared for success in college (Crisis at the Core). Yet, it seems that we have “thrown out the baby with the bath water” and forgotten our purpose.

Prior to NCLB, most statewide assessment programs referenced core curriculum standards (also called content standards and benchmarks). This was regardless of whether the assessment instrument was a norm-referenced test (NRT) or a criterion-referenced test (CRT). The “standards reform movement,” and to a large extent NCLB itself, refocused these assessments on measuring the content standards and benchmarks each state deemed important for instruction. As such, standards-referenced assessment (SRT) was defined.

Obviously, there has been much debate over the artifacts of these assessments: their rigor, how to establish the passing or performance standards, how states are going to get all of their students over the proficiency standard, etc. However, there has not been much debate on whether the assessments must measure what is being taught in the schools as manifested in the content standards and benchmarks with demonstrated alignment—which, in fact, is required under the Peer Review Process.

I am sure the very content standards and benchmarks we are measuring were not generated with the notion that college readiness was the intended outcome. If they were, then why are there few, if any, required advanced mathematics courses like Algebra II, Trigonometry, or Calculus? Even if we could revamp the core curriculum standards, philosophically, I am not so sure that our stated purpose for public education should be college readiness.

It was best described to me by a disgruntled parent at the local football game last Friday night: “A high school diploma means nothing because everyone gets one regardless of their skill. Soon, a BS degree will be analogous to the high school diploma we earned when we were in school and its meaning, too, will be devalued.” So…is the goal of making all students college ready a good thing? I could not help but think that this attitude is exactly what one might expect if people actually believe that all students are the same and denied themselves the possibility that measurable individual differences exist. Is this where NCLB is leading us? Perhaps that is a topic for another time.

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