By Lily Eskelsen García, President, National Education Association (NEA), and Otha Thornton, President, National PTA
This piece first appeared in the Washington Post. View the original here.
Public education for every child was an American idea, but it has always been a local and state responsibility. Even when Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 50 years ago, the intended federal role was limited but clear: ensuring equal opportunity.
The act provided federal resources for states to level the playing field between schools in wealthy and poor districts. However, its 2002 reauthorization, which became known as No Child Left Behind, took the law off track by mandating that all students hit arbitrary scores on standardized tests instead of ensuring equal opportunities.
No Child Left Behind has failed. Now we have a chance to fix the law by refocusing on the proper federal role: equal opportunity. To do that, we must change the way we think about accountability.
Under No Child Left Behind, accountability has hinged entirely on standardized test scores, a single number that has been used to determine whether students graduate or teachers keep their jobs. The problem is, a single test score is like a blinking "check engine" light on the dashboard. It can tell us something's wrong but not how to fix it ...