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Linda Darling-Hammond at AASA: Testing Is Not Reform

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The newly appointed chair of the California State Board of Education Linda Darling-Hammond spoke to the national conference of the American Association of School Administrators (the School Superintendents Association) and denounced the American reliance on high-stakes testing as a reform strategy.

If America wants to be the world leader in education, then it should look to other countries as a model for success, says Linda Darling-Hammond, a leading educational researcher, in her Thought Leader session Thursday at the AASA national conference.

Countries such as Finland and Singapore have been among the highest-scoring countries in international comparisons. Unlike the United States, these countries provide broad support for children’s welfare, said Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.

“They take care of children. Health care is usually universal. There is income security and (state-paid) preschool,” she told a room full of superintendents, education advocates and business leaders at the AASA conference. In effect, those countries educate “the whole child,” she said.

Darling-Hammond was the keynote speaker for the AASA Sobol Lecture, named for the late New York education leader Thomas Sobol, a vehement supporter of equity in education and for involving parents and teachers in policymaking decisions affecting classrooms. Sobol passed away in 2015.

With more than 25 books and research articles on education, Darling-Hammond is influential in policymaking circles. Once rumored to be a potential candidate to lead the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, Darling-Hammond this week was named by Gov. Gavin Newsom to lead the California State Board of Education. The board’s responsibilities range from school financing to testing requirements and teaching standards. She is the first African-American woman to take the helm.

Darling-Hammond noted that economic conditions for many families and schools nationwide worsened in the post-No Child Left Behind policy era, particularly in the wake of the 2007 Great Recession. Wages stagnated. Poverty is on the rise and more families are homeless now, she said. Such factors contribute to poor educational outcomes.

The Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind policy, passed by Congress in 2002, increased testing requirements for schools nationwide and set penalties for schools that failed to demonstrate improvements in student achievement, she contended. Proponents then said the policy would hold teachers, schools and school districts accountable for closing gaps in student achievement, or they would risk federal funding cuts or even closure of failing schools.

The fallout is apparent. Schools began testing children more frequently. They music, art and even recess — despite neuroscientific research demonstrating that they are critical for a child’s emotional and social development, Darling-Hammond said.

“If all of that testing had been improving us, we would have been the highest achieving nation in the world,” she said.

Now, that’s the Linda Darling-Hammond we all know and love!

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