No Child Left Behind, that noble-spirited yet failed attempt to raise the bar on education in America, has for the last dozen years insured that the bar was left at the mediocre level.
At the same time, it has robbed schools and individual teachers of the ability to push the envelope under the pressure of "teaching for the test." In the worst cases it has led to institutional cheating, the pressure of making the grade being so great on schools and school systems that have failed to find the holy grail of Adequate Yearly Progress.
In Pennsylvania that test has been the PSSA (the Pennsylvania System of Scholastic Assessment), given to students three times over the course of their primary and secondary education.
A few parents - a very few - have appealed to the state Department of Education under a little-known exemption in the law that allows their children to opt out of the PSSAs if they find them contrary to their religious beliefs. While that may theoretically be the case among some, others seem to be molding their "religious beliefs" in such a way that their children are excused simply because the parents believe the rigorous prep work and arduous testing is actually imparing their child's educational experience.
After a decade of No Child Left Behind, the word that the program wasn't working the way it was supposed to had finally reached Congress, but Congress has been either unwilling or unable to fix the program, drop it all together, or come up with something else that works.
Pennsylvania has asked the federal Department of Education to opt out of No Child Left Behind and has created a new testing regimen called the Keystone Exam. And, for teeth, Pennsylvania has armed its new exam with the eventual requirement for graduation.
Will some parents find the Keystone Exam just a reincarnation of the PSSA except that it places more pressure on the student than on the teacher?
The state's mission statement indicates that it will still use the Keystone as one indicator of faculty performance, and we believe that faculty should be held to reasonable performance standards.
What the state is attempting is achieving the original intent of No Child Left Behind while avoiding the flaws that doomed the act to failure, and at the same time assure the federal government that its plan will work. We don't want to lose that federal funding, do we?