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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Lowering bar will not raise successes

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

As predicted in this column and elsewhere last year, the Missouri Legislature is about to change the grading requirement for state standardized school tests to bring our scores more in line with national standards. In Missouri's case, that means actually lowering the threshold for success as measured by the No Child Left Behind law that has created an educational firestorm in its wake.

The result of this legislation - if approved - will be that more Missouri schools will reach the federal threshold of approval for test scores on the Missouri Assessment Program tests each year. That does not mean that students will be performing at a higher level - it just will (in our case) lower the bar for success.

For starters, this legislation is appropriate because the Missouri school standards were far too high and unrealistic in the first place. But it should not lull parents into some false sense of pride or accomplishment simply because the grading will be changed.

Let me return to the theme that I have voiced since this national testing program was implemented. Some segments of the school population will never successfully achieve even the minimum level of success on the tests. It's just impossible. In short, the entire process - though well-intentioned - is flawed from the very beginning. By breaking down the achievement of every demographic category, we doom schools to failure despite their best intentions and efforts.

No Child Left Behind may be an embarrassing legacy of the Bush administration. It is the latest in a long line of federal programs that sound and look good on paper but fail miserably when implemented. And my fear from the very beginning was that eventually we'd "dumb down" the testing process to allow all groups to pass while ignoring the damage done to those students who have the potential for greater learning and higher success.

The headline today centers on the lower grading scale. But the headline in the future will center on the continued failure of some students to achieve despite the massive amounts of money and time provided to the educational system. That headline, I fear, will never change.

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