Kelly Gallagher is one of my favorite ELA writers. His style is easy to read and practical. He gets that good teachers make compromises in the course of their instruction. The premise of In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom is that those compromises always need to favor what is right for kids. When we put teachers in the middle of the standards movement, they may be confronted with mandates to meet all the standards or teach to the tests in ways that do not promote achievement in literacy- both reading and writing. He cites data that since NCLB our students performance on the SATs has gone down. Students who have been exposed to the testing regime of NCLB performed lower on the verbal section than any other students before them
Now we are changing the SAT, and guess what? The test scores rose. For the average student, the new SAT scores are 40 points higher than the scores they would have received on the old SAT. What this truly showcases is one of his main points in the first chapter, that standards are necessary but insufficient. He comments that under NCLB with its mandated or sanctioned move toward proficiency, test cut off scores were reduced. We can indeed make a test that everyone is proficient on. That being said the test itself does nothing to improve skill. State test score proficiency levels rose and international test scores stagnated.
An interesting corollary to this idea. In New York when we adopted the new CCSS and tests, we were warned that test proficiency rates would drop significantly. Only 30 percent of students would "pass." Once the tests were administered and scored this was nearly the exact result. Why? The cut score was determined by the commissioner of education. If I want only 30% to be proficient, I send my psychometricians that goal and the cut score will be adjusted so that the vast majority of students fail, demonstrating that our students are woefully in trouble and we need the new standards to fix education.
Kelly emphasizes that what our focus needs to be is on good teaching- not meeting all the standards, something that would take far more than the 13 years of free public education our average student is expected to receive. He supports standards, but suggests that they fit in around the good teaching, not the other way around. He suggests that we not fixate on the tests but on the instruction. If we want to raise the level of education among our students that is where we must focus.
As another author once pointed out, we do not have students able to jump a high jump better by raising the bar.