We have always been suspicious of No Child Left Behind, standardized testing, and the consequences of the two taken together for their ability to accurately reflect the performance of any individual educational institution.
Yes, we believe the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, the dreaded PSSA tests, can be viewed as a tool for targeting needs, but only one tool. We hope that the Keystone Exam, which will replace the PSSA, will also be viewed as a single tool in a box that contains others.
Among the problems with the No Child Left Behind system is that the consequences for failing to "make the grade" are onerous and, in some cases, panic-inducing. States can take over entire school districts if they fail to attain adequate yearly progress after so many years as measured by the testing program. A school that falls below a certain point on the statewide curve of performance can be forced to inform parents that they may want to send their children elsewhere for their education and provide them money to do that, even if no other are available.
Because so much rides on the spreadsheet of PSSA grades and other criteria tied to No Child Left behind, it wasn't long - immediate, actually - before schools started teaching for the test. In other words, the new paradigm for education became mediocrity.
In other cases, some educators have actually resorted to cheating. It's not widespread, but it happens.
And, the outcomes can be misleading, such as the case with Sheffield Area Middle/High School, which failed to make AYP even though its students' test scores were really pretty good. It failed because year before last it's graduation rate fell 3 percentage points below the standard. That is, in a school the size of Sheffield, the decision by one or two students to quit school, is all it takes to put the school into a "warning" classification.
The rate for the most recent graduating class was more than 9 points above the target.
Statistics can be deceiving. And, when they deceive, they can also be potentially dangerous to the intended goal. It's not the goal of the program that is troubling; it's the route to the goal that is fraught with hazards.