An article in School Library Journal’s “Extra Helping” newsletter reports bad news about the No Child Left Behind program.

“Here’s a new and significant research finding that won’t surprise many of No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) school-based critics: high-stakes, test-based accountability—exactly what the law promotes—has a direct, negative impact on graduation rates,” writes Joan Oleck.

Though the article does not directly discuss science education, those of us concerned about science and other subjects that place the development of critical thinking skills above the acquisition of factual information are indeed not surprised that teaching to the test is counter-productive educationally.

The SLJ article extends the critique of NCLB in Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade by Linda Perlstein, published last fall by Henry Holt.

My Science Shelf Review of Tested states, in part:

Politics aside, this book is a tale of a team of ordinary people doing extraordinary work to succeed against the odds, caring adults striving to make the world better for children.

Chapter by chapter, the tension grows. The devil they face is in the details that all schools confront: discipline problems, learning disabilities, emotional turmoil at home, or simply parents struggling to stay afloat. Poor schools have additional problems, including student and faculty turnover. How can this team, including several newcomers in critical positions, do even better than last year’s performance?

Like any good drama, this one reveals deeper truths. Tested offers plenty of grist for critics who argue that No Child Left Behind forces good teachers to focus on test-taking skills rather than true learning. Creativity and critical thinking suffer in the push for higher test scores. Science and social studies lessons are neglected. Lessons on how to write formulaic “brief constructed responses” (correct spelling and grammar optional) replace exercises in crafting sentences and paragraphs.

But its central message is more important. This behind-the-scenes view of a real school at work reveals that Tyler Heights would be a success story whether its students are tested or not.

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