From Publishers Weekly
Though the jury is still out regarding the controversial 2001 education act known as "No Child Left Behind," it's safe to call it a mixed blessing for at-risk "Title 1" schools who rely on federal funding to pay teachers and support staff: under the new policy, federal funding can be taken away if schools fail to make "adequate yearly progress," as measured by country-wide standardized testing. Education reporter and author Perlstein (Not Much Just Chillin') uses an engaging, up-close-and-personal style to examine one such school, suburban Maryland's Tyler Heights Elementary-a failing institution destined for a big turnaround-to discover the positives and negatives of the "school accountability movement" in which "No Child" is rooted; in particular, Perlstein wants to know, "What were the test scores about?" Tales of third graders prepping for an exam prove genuinely, surprisingly dramatic; Perlstein crafts a gripping narrative out of the day-to-day business of education through solid reporting, taking into consideration the politics, goals, interests and architects of the program ("Lobbyists for testing and school improvement businesses had a far greater role in the law's creation than... actual educators"). The faces of children, teachers and administrators emerge vividly, and Perlstein largely avoids taking sides in favor of an honest, enlightening look at the complex reality of this much-debated policy.
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The predominately minority and low-income students at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis, Maryland, showed huge improvement in their state standardized tests, securing the future of their teachers and principaland pleasing parentsuntil the next round of tests the following year. Could they sustain the level of improvement when so many children came to school hungry, abused, or poisoned by lead paint? The state looked at overall improvement year to year rather than the progress of individual students. Could the teachers and principal Tina McKnight continue to perform under the pressure? Perlstein (Not Much, Just Chillin', 2003) details how McKnight and the teachers at the once-failing elementary school spend much of their day strategizing about the test, under scrutiny by the local board of education. Perlstein brings telling details, engagement, and perception to her investigation of how a single school coped with the high stakes attached to standardized tests. As educators and lawmakers ponder the renewal of No Child Left Behind, this book offers some piercing insight into the reality of reliance on standardized tests to measure a school's effectiveness. Bush, Vanessa