Tag Archives: standardized testing

No Child Left Behind, Square Pegs & Round Holes, & Rhode Island Education

I didn’t set out to become an education reform advocate, but somewhere in the process of writing a book about the benefits of music education, my research let me to funding of the arts, which led me to the consequences of No Child Left Behind, which led me to…

The video above addresses the potential consequences of a standardized testing program in Rhode Island, but it is a representation of an education epidemic that affects all of our children:

The escalation of the reliance on standardized testing as an assessment mechanism is hindering our ability to focus on the individuality of our students, and to help them identify and prepare for their unique calling and vocation.

It is said that everyone has the ability to perform at genius levels at “something.” Our job is to help students discover what their particular “something” is. I believe that in this world there are too many square pegs trying to fit into round holes due to fear or complacency, or because they were not given the proper tools of self-discovery. The greatest productivity gains that we as a society can achieve is by realigning those pegs.

In a related note, here’s a trailer for the movie Race To Nowhere, an indie film project about the current status of our education system, driven by a concerned parent.


Race to Nowhere: Helping Kids Step off the Academic Treadmill

A fellow music education advocate recommended the film Race to Nowhere. I must say that I haven’t had the opportunity to see the film, but the trailer echoes many of the frustrations with the direction of education that we’ve discussed here previously. The film is being screened in selected markets and will be released this fall.

The film website also has links, resources, and tools to get behind this message. It’s also important to note that testimonials indicated that the movie leaves you with a sense of hope rather than just taking the easy route of bashing education and leaving the viewer frustrated.

While we generally discuss music education in this forum, many of the themes addressed in this documentary are questions we raise in that debate including:

  • Personalized approach to students’ needs
  • The importance of a well-rounded school experience (educated vs. informed students)
  • The pressure to perform on standardized tests (schools, students, and teachers)
  • Developing the ability to think rather than memorize
  • Redefining success

As I’ve stated previously here in a letter to the Aspen’s Institute on No Child Left Behind, “Our ability to meet performance metrics is meaningless if those metrics are not a true measure of the needs of our students.” Any thoughts from those who may have seen this film would be appreciated.

Startling statistics
A letter from the Director Vicki Abeles

Frustrated Teachers, Test-Obsessed Schools

Diane Ravitch is the research professor of education at NYU and the author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). In “Just Say No to the Race to the Top” she discusses how although standardized state tests are considered inadequate and a poor representation of the effectiveness of an educational institution (even acknowledged by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan), educators are held hostage by test-based methods in terms of allocation of dollars, teacher evaluations, and classroom priorities.

It’s interesting that there are several dozen comments to this very articulate blog post, mostly from educators who share her frustrations. Schools have been demoralized by these standards, and studies indicate that the greatest prerequisites of effective education are a motivated teacher and a motivated learner.

If teachers, parents, and students are fed up with the obsession on standardized tests, who’s steering the ship?

Link to “Just Say No to Race to the Top” by Diane Ravitch

My thoughts on Music Education and No Child Left Behind in a letter to the Aspen Institute’s Commission on NCLB

The Creativity/Memorization Ratio in Education & Assessment of the Arts

I discussed in a previous post a report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) regarding the effect of the No Child Left Behind Act on the classroom that discussed the shift in education resources toward subjects that are assessed via standardized tests. CEP also provided recommendations based on their findings, one of which was to encourage the states to “Consider including measures of knowledge and skills in art and music among the multiple measures used for NCLB accountability,” based on their research that indicates “What gets tested gets taught.”

That brings up a touchy subject that gets debated in the academic world – How do you implement tests for the arts that truly capture artistic aptitude and competence? By definition the arts are about creativity, and standardization can discourage creativity. How would Charlie Parker or Pablo Picasso have performed on a standardized arts test? My fear is that standardized testing for the arts would drive the move toward memorization of facts rather than creative application, which is essentially what the arts are all about and the greatest benefit of arts in our schools (see item #5 of the 9 Common Lessons of Music Education that Translate into Success).

These thoughts led me to the emphasis on memorization in education. As a parent of a 12 year old, I can say that education today is similar to my education experience in that regard. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I believe that unless we find a way to transfer artificial intelligence to human beings in real time, memorization will always be a part of the education experience. But Social Studies, Science, and Religion (in private schools) are almost exclusively an exercise in memorization at the elementary school level. Math and grammar are of course a hybrid of memorization and application.

My point is that as the access to information becomes closer and closer to instantaneous with mobile devices that can access the web, the importance of memorization is diminished. Our schools are doing a relatively good job of addressing the importance of technology and familiarizing our children with computers and the web, from what I can gather. They are not, however, addressing the “creativity/memorization ratio” in terms of time spent on these skills in the classroom relative to their importance in the 21st century.

Any thoughts?

The Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind

The well-intended implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act has resulted in increased emphasis on standardized testing in our schools and fewer resources available for subjects other than reading and math (including music and the arts). The Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind is holding a hearing in New Orleans today to discuss education standards, data, reform. etc.

My comments submitted for the record are noted below. You can provide written comments for the public record via e-mail. Click here for more info.

April 5, 2010

The Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind
Tulane University
Lavin Bernick Center, Kendall Cram Room (#213)
New Orleans, LA
April 5th, 2010
1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. CST

Working Together for Student Success: Accountability, Data, and High Standards

COMMENTOR NAME: Craig M. Cortello

AFFILIATION: Music Education Advocacy author and speaker. Author of Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music (La Dolce Vita Publishing, 2009). A 20 year veteran of engineering, consulting, and manufacturing industries and a 30 year guitarist/pianist/songwriter. Contributing music writer to Where Y’at magazine in New Orleans and AllAboutJazz.com. Business articles have appeared in Convention Forum, Industrial Engineer, and Executive IdeaLink magazines.

RE: Music Education & No Child Left Behind

From the perspective of the arts community, No Child Left Behind was seen as a significant victory, in the sense that it recognized “Arts” as a core academic subject. As is often the case, there seems to be a disconnect between what has been written into law and what is in fact reality.

According to a series of reports by the Center on Education Policy that tracks the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (which became law in 2002) entitled From the Capital to the Classroom, 62 percent of elementary school districts reported increasing time for English and/or math since the 2001-02 school year by an average increase of 42 percent. At the same time, 44 percent of elementary school districts reported cutting time from one or more other subjects including science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch, and recess by an average of about 30 minutes per day.

“What gets tested gets taught,” said Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO. “Because so much is riding on reading and math, included on state tests, many schools have cut back time on other important areas, which means that some students are not receiving a broad curriculum.”

The report also notes that these changes are more prevalent in districts that are home to struggling schools. One recommendation from the report is to “include measures of knowledge and skills in art and music as one of the multiple measures used for NCLB accountability.”

Over a period of 2 years, I conducted interviews with 32 CEOs and business leaders who played music as a child or adolescent and view that experience as a defining one in preparing them for success. The compilation of those interviews and profiles became the primary content of my book entitled Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music, published in September of 2009, a copy of which I have submitted for the record.

One of the questions that I asked of all of the research participants was this, “Based on your experience with music, if a school principal or administrator came to you and asked for 2 or 3 talking points that would be compelling in justifying funding to keep a music education program intact, what would you say.”

Consistently, the answer to that question was some variation of the following:

“Music kept me engaged in the school experience where I might have become disenchanted with the experience otherwise.”
“I kept up with my studies to fulfill an obligation so that I could play in the marching band.”
“I didn’t feel part of the mainstream, but music became my identity.”
“I knew I had talent, but I don’t respond well to traditional assessment methods. Music validated that belief for me.”

And therein lies the irony. In short, music education IS a no child left behind program. It keeps children that don’t necessarily shine according to traditional metrics of student performance involved in school.

Sometimes tutoring and remedial course offerings are not enough to keep children on the bus. We need to find a motivating reason for them to want to come along for the ride.

It does seem to me that the very well-intended accountability motives that have driven the demand for standardized testing have led us to a more narrow approach to education. These changes come in an era when the workforce is demanding more well-rounded, diversified individuals possessing artistic sensitivities, as expressed very articulately by authors such as Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, Ned Herrmann, and John Kao.

Creativity is just one of 9 common lessons that we identified from music education that translate into business success, FROM THE BAND ROOM TO THE BOARDROOM so to speak. One common theme in most all research on the topic of creativity is the concept that creativity is like a muscle. The capacity for creative thought will either strengthen with use or wither with inactivity. We must engage in creative activities in order to develop that capacity.

My concern – Where will our children have the opportunity to strengthen their “creativity muscles” without music and arts education in our schools?

In closing, I would like to simply say that until we recognize that music and the arts are as essential as reading and math in preparing our students for the 21st century workplace, any perceived improvements through the implementation of accountability measures are hollow victories. Our ability to meet performance metrics is meaningless if those metrics are not a true measure of the needs of our students.

James Carlini is an international business infrastructure and technology consultant and a former distinguished teaching award recipient at Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Education. He advocates a movement away from the 3 R’s of education that were appropriate for the industrial age toward what he refers to as the F-A-C-T approach toward education – that is, a focus on Flexibility, Adaptability, Creativity, and Technology as the necessary cornerstones of a post-information age education. And music and the arts should play an integral role in that migration.

I ask you to reverse this disturbing trend of diminishing resources for music and the arts.

Musically inspired,


Craig M. Cortello

The “Business Musician”

P.O. Box 746
Metairie, LA 70004-0746

Cell: (504) 481-6105

No Child Left Behind & Global Competitiveness – Dr. Yong Zhao

In this video, Dr. Yong Zhao of Michigan State University’s College of Education discusses the effect of standardized testing and the narrowing of educational focus on global competitiveness. Dr. Zhao warns of this approach and discusses the lessons we can learn from China’s approach.

Video link

Standardized Testing or a Well-Rounded Education in New Zealand

Interesting to me that others are dealing with the same education issues that we deal with in the U.S. – the impact of standardized testing on the “narrowing” of focus in education rather than “well-roundedness.” In this blog post entitled, Teaching To The Test – National’s Education Reforms, blogger and researcher Chris Ford discusses his concern that the education system in New Zealand:

“Personally, I believe that the main role of an education system is to prepare all children not just for the capitalist workforce but for their role as future citizens. This philosophy was what the late educationalist Clarence Beeby articulated in the best social democratic way. We need to return to that ethos but at the moment the neoliberal view of education as being a mere means to prepare younger people to become employees prevails.”

Well said.