No (Sleeping) Child Left Behind?

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President Barack Obama is making today an education day. He’s appearing at a middle school in Arlington, Virginia, to talk about “reforming education in order to win the future,” according to a White House press release. And he’s calling on Congress to “fix” George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law “before the start of the next school year.”

For Marylanders, today is an appropriate moment for such a call. This morning, schools in their state are holding the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) tests for certain grades. This is a series of tests of math and reading achievement that is mandated by the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools will rise or fall, depending on the results of these tests, which supposedly will reveal how well the schools are performing. But here’s one data point that may not be factored into the equation: daylight savings time.

Due to springing forward one hour on Sunday morning, my sixth-grade daughter had a tougher-than-usual time dragging herself out of bed this morning in the dark. She begged to be allowed to sleep in. (That reminded me of a line I once heard Tom Waits growl: The only amount of sleep I ever needed was five more minutes.) Her car-pool friend had the same problem this morning. As we reached their middle school, I saw dozens of kids who seemed to be trudging up the hill toward the school more trudgingly than usual. And many of them were heading toward the MSA test being conducted in the first period.

So this final day of MSA testing will occur when the kids are not all right but exhausted. No doubt, this will affect test results. And I don’t think scores are adjusted for weariness. It was a lousy idea to schedule the MSA on a Monday morning following a time change. But this does illustrate a flaw in the law: standardized testing can be significantly influenced by factors that have nothing to do with the actual performance of a school and its teachers. This is not to say that testing has no role in evaluating school systems and teachers. But rigid adherence to testing will not serve the students or teachers. Just ask my daughter later about the value of today’s MSA in judging her school experience. That is, if she’s not napping.

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