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Sep. 11 2009 - 1:21 am | 43 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Your child’s test scores aren’t as good as they look

In the coming weeks, a steady stream of student test scores (from last spring’s state assessments) will be released to the public. School newsletters, local newspapers, and television news reports will be filled with familiar language: AYP (adequate yearly progress), sub-groups (economically disadvantaged, special education, limited English proficient, racial/ethnic groups), failing (when the student body as a whole or a particular sub-group does not make AYP because not enough score at the “proficient” level), and proficient (when students meet the basic standard and pass the state test in a given subject).

I wish to discuss this notion of proficiency, because it is, for all intents and purposes, a bogus classification. Why? The reason is simple: All states set their own standards for proficiency, and many states’ standards are too low. The best example of this can be found in the table on page 8 of this 2007 report from the Department of Education. You’ll see that according to state standards, in 2005 Mississippi was tied with Tennessee for the highest proportion of 4th graders proficient in reading. But when Mississippi 4th graders took the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), they scored last among all the states. (NOTE: A sample of students in each state takes the NAEP, not every student.)

Many states soon will be patting themselves on the back when students simply are meeting low standards, while other students may fall short because their states decided to set high standards. Until we have one set of national standards, it will be impossible for any of us to really know how our students compared to peers in other states. And since our K-12 students will be competing against those peers when it comes to college admission and finding a job, it is important for them and their parents to know where they stand in terms of academic performance.

Arne Duncan explained this situation well in his interview with the education journal Phi Delta Kappan (subscription only, so no hyperlink available) in its September issue: (I’m paraphrasing) No Child Left Behind got it backward. Instead of letting states be creative with standards but prescribing how they should reach them (which is how our current system is set up), the federal government should mandate one set of standards and let states, districts, and schools meet them however they see fit.

I concur, because this type of system would:

 1) promote high standards for all of our country’s students,

 2) allow a true comparison of how students around the country are doing,

 3) ensure that teachers do not feel constrained with regard to what they teach and how and when they teach it,

 4) allow us to get back to what most people want: local control of schools.


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    About Me

    I'm a Teach For America alum and spent three years as a high school teacher on the west and south sides of Chicago. I've conducted research on turnaround schools with a team from the University of Virginia, consulted for school districts across the country, and done work with New Leaders for New Schools, the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and DonorsChoose.org. Currently I'm finishing my PhD from UVa's Curry School of Education.

    My work has been published in Education Week, the Phi Delta Kappan, and a number of academic journals, and I'm a co-author of the book Teachers' Guide to School Turnarounds. I also contribute monthly to GOOD, the website "for people who give a damn": www.good.is/community/MichaelSalmonowicz

    Learn more about my writing: http://sites.google.com/site/salmonowiczpubs

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    I am a contributor for GOOD, the website “for people who give a damn.” You can read my June column here. Past columns can be found here.