Educate All Students, Support Public Education

September 6, 2016

The Atlantic: The Failing Grade for Tests

Filed under: Testing Issues — millerlf @ 4:51 pm

In the final installment of our series, a panel of education experts describes what evaluation and accountability look like in the perfect world.

Hayley Glatter, Emily DeRuy, and Alia Wong

Sep 4, 2016  The Atlantic Education

This is the seventh—and final—installment in our series about school in a perfect world. Read previous entries on calendars, content, homework, teachers, classrooms, and classifications.

We asked prominent voices in education—from policy makers and teachers to activists and parents—to look beyond laws, politics, and funding and imagine a utopian system of learning. They went back to the drawing board—and the chalkboard—to build an educational Garden of Eden. We’ve published their answers to one question each day this week. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Today’s assignment: The Evaluation. How are schools held accountable?

But first, in honor of the series’ final installment, we’re including a brief note from U.S. Education Secretary John King that outlines his vision of the ideal school:

The ideal school wouldn’t need to be fancy but it would be clean and painted, the floors polished, the windows sparkling. The adults would treat it like a temple to learning, communicating to students, teachers, parents, and community members that what goes on there is important and worthy of their best efforts. The school’s leader would teach part-time and spend a lot of time in classrooms observing, to give his colleagues clear, actionable feedback on how to improve their practice. Teachers would write the school’s curriculum, with the goal of preparing all students for success after high school, in college or careers. They would assign their students work worth doing—from reading meaningful literature to stressing problem solving in mathematics to using original documents in social studies and teaching science through experiments. The curriculum would include music, art, dance, and physical education. The students at the ideal school would be racially diverse, speak different languages, and practice different religions. Students from well-off families would study side by side with those from modest circumstances. The teachers would also be diverse, so students would see persons of color in positions of authority. A health clinic, a social worker, and a mental-health counselor would serve students and their families. The ideal school would be a place where students want to show up every day, parents are involved and confident their students are being well served, and the adults in the building enthusiastically embrace their responsibility to do whatever it might take to help students succeed.

Rita Pin Ahrens, the director of education policy for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center

Schools will be held accountable through the assessment of students against both state and national standards. The United States needs to get over its hang up with the idea of national standards. National standards for college, career, and civic readiness will create efficiencies in developing common evaluation measures.  Some of these measures will be collected through standardized tests, but other measures might be collected through independent inspection of schools by a state, and, when necessary, a federal review team. This will ensure that schools are not only meeting the academic needs of students, but are also complying with state and federal expectations for protecting the civil rights of students and safeguarding students’ well being.

Nicholson Baker, the author of Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids

I enjoyed taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills when I was small, but that was when it was the only standardized test there was. Now there are do-or-die assessments and quickie placement quizzes every time a kid turns around. Parents are opting out of statewide tests in large numbers because they see that the results are being misused.

Keep it local, keep it real, and relax. Make sure every kid can sound out words by fourth grade.  Spelling tips are extremely useful, too, because English, let’s face it, is a perversely spelled language. Human knowledge is vast and fractal and beautiful—and it’s crowd-sourced. There’s too much going on in the instantly accessible cultural fiesta of contemporary life for schools to be able to test anything beyond the basics in a meaningful way.

We remember what we need to know.

Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education

There was never a day in my 25 years as a teacher and principal that I did not feel accountable to my students and the community I served. I felt accountable for students’ safety, academic learning and socio-emotional growth.  All of the above matter, though some are not as easy to measure as others. Which of the above do you think parents want schools to ignore? Yet test scores are the only measures we value.

Our national obsession with test scores as the measure of school quality has not only not produced progress, but it is breaking our public-school system apart. We have had a decade and a half of this misguided focus. It must stop.

Schools will first and foremost be accountable to the community that they serve. As we move further into an era of school privatization and choice in the name of accountability, ironically, schools are moving further away from community oversight and governance. If we return to community schools and ask our communities what they value, we can start to determine what true accountability should be and how it can best be measured.

The academically highest performing nations in the world, such as Finland, are not obsessed with testing and “accountability.”  They focus instead on school improvement, equity, and closing opportunity gaps.  It’s time we follow their lead.

Catherine Cushinberry, the executive director of Parents for Public Schools

There will be no standardized nationwide or statewide tests or common evaluation measures. Students learn in different ways and have different ways of articulating what they learn. Some students may show it better through song or art while others might prefer to create or build something to illustrate what they’ve learned. The measure or standard of excellence has to be set by a community with families, teachers, administrators, and students represented. The “standard” for that school or district will be created and will be re-evaluated, much like a strategic plan, every 3 to 5 years. We live in a global society and we tend to have a desire to compare how we are doing nationally to what is going on internationally. We usually use metrics to determine where we ranked compared at the state, national, and international level. This will be incorporated in the community thinking as they determine the measures for success.

Michael Horn, the co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute

When a student is educated with taxpayer dollars, the taxpaying public is also a stakeholder in that schooling. Accountability is important, but it will look different. Instead of focusing on arbitrary measures of what a student doesn’t know on a specific date, we will focus on the individual growth of each child. We’ll have systems of assessments where we don’t pit “formative” against “summative.” In a competency-based system, every assessment will be both of learning — students don’t move on unless they master the competencies — and for learning — the results of the assessment will help educators and students determine what to do next. Assessments will be significantly smaller and, given that all of them will be for learning, they will not  interrupt learning. And we will use both objective assessments — with multiple-choice items and the like — for more basic competencies and performance assessments in which students tackle rich projects and showcase their ability to apply what they have learned in meaningful ways.

We won’t have a nationwide standardized test. We will align systems by using a common matrix-based assessment, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in which no one student takes the whole test. Instead, several students each take a fraction of the test and a few thousand test takers can give an accurate picture of the results.

Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation

The demise of the ill-fated No Child Left Behind Act underlines the importance of getting accountability right. Albert Shanker, the former American Federation of Teachers president, noted that systems which hold teachers accountable for student performance but include no consequences for students themselves, set up a bizarre situation: Students know if they fail, they will not be punished, but their teachers will be. Shanker also knew that differing state-by-state standards will lead to inequality between jurisdictions and inefficiency in a society in which families frequently move from state to state.

A better system will provide for joint accountability among students and teachers. It will also recognize that schools are about more than producing math and reading scores. Schools want to graduate young adults who are good people as well as smart ones, who learn empathy and compassion as well as numeracy and literacy. Most of all, schools need to produce good citizens in a pluralistic democracy and employees who know how to thrive in an increasingly diverse society. The number one reason employees are fired is not for incompetence but for the inability to get along with co-workers, including those of different backgrounds. Accountability measures must connect better to these broader goals of public education.

Michelle Rhee, the founder of StudentsFirst and the former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools

Teachers and schools of the future will be held accountable for providing an excellent school to all children, regardless of their zip code. There will be high-quality standards that will ensure kids are receiving the education they deserve and there will be high-quality, robust, and authentic assessments to measure their progress toward the standards. Schools, principals, teachers, and parents will work together to make sure kids are thriving and receiving the support they need to reach their full potential.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers

Are we creating schools where kids thrive? If we have, how did we do it? If not, why not? And what needs to change to put us on a better path?

No one-size-fits-all nationwide compliance system based on an annual math-and-English test that is used to close schools, fire teachers, and hold back children is going to help kids pursue their dreams.

When it comes to testing, tests should inform—not drive—instruction. If we want to use test data to measure progress, we have a gold standard—the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, which take a randomly sampled national snapshot and provide a clear sense of where we’re succeeding and where we’re falling short.

But we need to be accountable to our schools and educators, not just demand accountability from them. Real accountability should include considering whether a school has the resources its students need. Are there books for every student? Is the building safe? Is the water clean? Are music, art, and physical education available? Can kids see a counselor if something’s wrong at home? Is the library open? Does the broadband work? If we can’t answer questions like that with a resounding yes, how can we fairly judge the work of educators in the classroom—much less make decisions like firing and promotion—when educators lack the basic supports and resources to provide a positive learning environment for students?


March 1, 2015

Let’s Demand a Sane Approach to Testing in Wisconsin

Filed under: Legislation,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 10:01 am

Wisconsin is engaging in “education chaos” with the legislative proposals on K-12 education presently being debated in Madison.

Fairtest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, addressed the US Senate in February on reauthorization of ESEA. Their criticisms and proposals should be a roadmap for ending the testing insanity we now face in Wisconsin and across the nation.

Key criticisms from Fairtest on proposed testing policy:
• Increased testing coupled with punitive sanctions caused a wide range of damage. The harm includes narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing out low-scoring children, and cheating.
• Continuing to require every grade testing will perpetuate the damage. Congress should not lock states into another decade of excessive and counter-productive testing.
• Ending punitive sanctions is an essential step, but it alone will not end the pressure to narrow curriculum and teach to the test.
• It should allow states to use federal funds for assessments that enhance learning as well as provide information for parents and public reporting.
• The new “college and career ready” (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) tests states and consortia are now implementing will not solve the problems. Even if they are a modest improvement over current exams, none are good enough to make the focus of instruction. They assess far too little of what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and civic life, while narrowed curriculum and other harms will continue.

FairTest Testimony on ESEA Reauthorization to Senate HELP Committee.
Submitted by fairtest on February 3, 2015

Less Testing, More Learning
Testimony to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Monty Neill, Ed.D., Executive Director, FairTest (National Center for Fair & Open Testing)

Dear Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and Members of the Committee:
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires that states test every student in every grade 3-8 and attach punitive sanctions to results. The result has been damage to educational quality and equity. The harm has been most severe for the students in low-income communities the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is intended to help.

NCLB was intended to accelerate school improvement. But, despite enormous pressure to raise reading and math test scores, the rate of progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at grades 4 and 8 was generally faster in the decade before NCLB took effect than under this law. (See That is also a consistent trend for most demographic groups, including Blacks, English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities. Score gaps between whites and other groups in 2012 were no narrower and often wider than they were in 1998 and 1990.

Nor did NLCB lead to gains on NAEP for high school students. Scores were highest for blacks and gaps the narrowest in 1988. Hispanic scores and gaps have also stagnated under NCLB. Further, SAT scores declined from 2006 to 2014 for all demographic groups except Asians, while ACT scores have been flat since 2010 for all demographic groups.

These results alone would be reason to acknowledge that NLCB has failed and that both sanctions and testing need to be overhauled. But the consequences of NCLB are even worse.

Increased testing coupled with punitive sanctions caused a wide range of damage. The harm includes narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing out low-scoring children, and cheating. (See States and especially districts greatly expanded their own mandated testing in an effort to stave off sanctions. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently reported students are subject to an average of 113 tests between kindergarten and high school graduation. (See In many large cities, students take 10, 20 and more tests in each grade. NCLB also marginalized promising alternative assessments whose expanded use was beginning to improve teaching, schools and learning.

The evidence shows that NCLB has left many children behind, especially those whom ESEA was designed to help. Continuing to require every grade testing will perpetuate the damage. Congress should not lock states into another decade of excessive and counter-productive testing.

Unfortunately, the situation is growing worse. The U.S. Department of Education’s NCLB “waivers” require “value-added” and “growth” measures for judging every single teacher. Research shows this test misuse can be as inaccurate as a coin toss. (See This requirement is further intensifying teaching to the test and causing a massive expansion of standardized exams as states force districts to carry out the policy. Miami-Dade, Florida, reports it must write 1600 new tests to meet this unfunded mandate, a requirement the Superintended called “insanity.” (See Fortunately, neither the proposed House bill nor Sen. Alexander’s draft bill requires states to continue this program. This renders unnecessary a requirement to test in every grade to obtain scores with which to evaluate educators.

Ending punitive sanctions is an essential step, but it alone will not end the pressure to narrow curriculum and teach to the test. Inertia, the weight of experience under NCLB, will perpetuate the problem. Research prior to NCLB, such as that conducted by Boston College researchers, found that even public reporting induced increased teaching to the test. At a minimum, states should be free to take stronger steps to reduce pressure to teach to the test by ending the every-grade requirement.

The new “college and career ready” tests states and consortia are now implementing will not solve the problems. Even if they are a modest improvement over current exams, none are good enough to make the focus of instruction. They assess far too little of what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and civic life, while narrowed curriculum and other harms will continue.

For these very good reasons, other economically advanced nations do not require testing in more than three grades. They also do not use student scores to judge teachers and schools. Clearly, requiring every-grade tests is not necessary to ensure high-quality schools.

Test proponents seem to believe that parents cannot know how their children are doing without yearly standardized exams. But teachers evaluate and grade students regularly. Research clearly demonstrates that student grades are better predictors of college success than are test scores. Parents do not need annual scores for every grade. Their children need good teachers and schools, ones that do not reduce learning to what is most easily measured. If they do not have them, improvement requires vastly more than focusing on test results.

The federal government has a legitimate role in helping ensure all children receive a strong education. It should neither leave all decisions up to the state nor act as the nation’s school board. What, then, is the proper balance? What should Congress support and require?

It should allow states to use federal funds for assessments that enhance learning as well as provide information for parents and public reporting. Sen. Alexander’s ‘Option 1” accomplishes this. Congress should not functionally block states, districts and schools from making changes that support rather than undermine enhanced outcomes.

One highly relevant example is the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which has a waiver from all state-mandated exams except English Language Arts for its dozens of public high schools. Instead, students graduate by completing individuated performance tasks in language arts, math, science and history. These tasks require the extended work, research, critical thinking and problem solving students need for success in the real world. While Consortium schools mirror New York City’s diversity, every demographic group graduates at higher rates. Higher percentages of graduates also enroll in college. More than the national average of their enrollees remains in college for third semester and beyond.

These and other high-quality assessments could flourish if allowed by federal law. NCLB killed many similar forms of assessment and marginalized others. It is time for Congress to help repair this damage.

FairTest chairs the national Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), which has shared language on accountability and school improvement with the HELP committee (see The FEA proposals would redefine accountability and lead to a focus on improvement, not punishment.

For accountability, states and districts would be required to assess the adequacy of resources available to schools, the nature and scope of improvement efforts, and the results of those efforts. States would report on key indicators in these areas and how the state itself is using this evidence to improve schools, particularly those that are in need of assistance. This is an expansion of accountability from Sen. Alexander’s draft, but one that does not put states or districts in a straight-jacket.

To promote improvement, FEA has identified “common elements” found in high-quality schools and successful turnarounds. FEA’s proposals would require states to assist the lowest-performing five percent of schools in implementing, as needed, these common elements. They include leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional learning, school climate, disciplinary practices, parent and community engagement, and wrap-around services. While this, too, would expand federal requirements beyond Sen. Alexander’s bill, the FEA proposal does not specify the actions localities and states must take, but rather the important areas they must address.

In conclusion, FairTest calls on the Senate HELP Committee to:
• Allow states to use grade-span testing and the other means for assessment flexibility and improvement described in Sen. Alexander’s “Option 1.”
• Overhaul accountability and improvement in line with the recommendations of the Forum on Educational Accountability.

Our children, our communities and our nation deserve a strong, effective ESEA. FairTest believes these recommendations are the basis for revising the current federal education law, and they provide a basis for bridging divisions within and between our political parties.

FairTest will be pleased to answer questions and discuss the ideas presented in this brief. You may reach me at, 617-477-9792.

Fairtest at:

October 29, 2014

Too Much Testing

Filed under: Testing Issues — millerlf @ 8:48 am

As student testing mounts, growing chorus says it’s too much
By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Oct. 27, 2014

Last fall, Milwaukee parent Jasmine Alinder went to volunteer in her daughter’s kindergarten classroom for a day of testing.The students were taking the Measures of Academic Progress, computer-based tests given three times a year to track academic progress from fall to spring.But what Alinder saw disturbed her: not enough computers, malfunctioning equipment, and kids having trouble understanding and answering the questions, many of which she thought were confusing or poorly worded.”In one hour we managed to shepherd only three children through the entire test, with two others starting but not finishing,” Alinder wrote, in a piece circulated by the Milwaukee teachers union.The MAP test, Alinder concluded, “is disruptive and takes away valuable classroom time.”

Since last year, a growing chorus has echoed those concerns nationally, sparking a widespread discussion about the number, type and usefulness of tests administered in public schools.

Last week, a joint statement from state education chiefs and urban superintendents called for taking stock of and rolling back some of the tests on the table. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who in tandem with the Obama administration has generally advocated for test-based accountability, said he actually welcomed the move.
“In some cases, tests — and preparation for them — dominate the calendar and culture of schools, causing undue stress,” Duncan wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

But untethering the American K-12 system from tests in an era of test-based accountability will be difficult. There’s no clear answer about how to use tests in a way that’s more helpful than now, in part because different factions have different beliefs on how much and what type of testing is necessary.

And the discussions are happening at a time when many states — including Wisconsin — are set to debut new state standardized achievement tests tied to the Common Core standards this spring.

The superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools system just called for delaying the administration of those exams. And school districts from New Hampshire to Oregon also are staging revolts, according to a story in Politico.
Tests that matter

The federal No Child Left Behind law passed in 2001 ramped up the focus on testing because it required that schools, in their annual testing of students, publicize the scores of student subgroups, such as English language learners and racial minorities.

Wisconsin students historically took those exams in third through eighth grade, and once in high school, in 10th grade.
The new Common Core-aligned state exams, to be administered online, will take the place of the old pencil-and-paper Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts exam in English and math starting this spring.

But other new statewide or district-specific tests have been adopted in recent years. Wisconsin has adopted an early literacy screening test, administered one-on-one by a teacher, for its youngest elementary students.

The WKCE in high school will be dropped, in favor of a suite of ACT-related tests in ninth and 10th grades, and then a requirement that all 11th-graders take the full ACT college entrance exam test.

MAP is something districts decide to use on an individual basis; MPS implemented it in recent years to better track the progress children make from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
How many of those tests actually matter to students?

At a national meeting about testing Friday in Milwaukee, Riverside High School senior Jaxs Goldsmith — class president and an aspiring electrical engineer — said he and his friends saw the WKCE and the MAP as unnecessary.
“I rushed through them,” he said. “I really didn’t take those tests seriously, because they’re not tied to getting into (a good) high school or college.”

Kaya Henderson, the superintendent of the Washington, D.C., Public Schools, said Friday the pendulum had swung from knowing little about how student subgroups were performing in each school, to being overly focused on testing.
“I think we’ve gone from veiled accountability or limited accountability for schools to kind of uber accountability and test mania,” Henderson said. “I think there’s a reasonable middle.”

Critics of high-stakes testing, such as the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, say the nation needs an indefinite moratorium on sanctions, Common Core tests, other statewide accountability exams and requirements that student scores be used to judge teachers.

Local reaction
Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association union, said local teachers are not against tests; they simply want them to improve teaching and learning, not distort the educational process.
The MTEA is pushing state and local officials in Wisconsin to end computerized MAP testing of kids in kindergarten through second grade, reduce the amount of testing for kids with special needs and test English-language learners in their native language as much as possible.

“Don’t subject them to English tests that don’t reliably measure their content knowledge,” he said.

Betsy Kippers, president of the largest state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said teachers and other organizations needed to examine state and federal mandates on testing and determine what, exactly, is necessary to assess a child’s progress.

“Instead of just a test made for the accountability of a school, what are the tests necessary to help a kid improve?” she said.

A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction spokesman shifted the spotlight away from the state test, saying districts give lots of other exams that aren’t required by the state.
“We are hoping local districts will join us in reviewing the exams they choose to administer,” said DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy.

What can be done
Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education, said no other country — including those outperforming the United States — has a year-by-year testing requirement.
“Not one of them give an accountability test more than three times in a student’s elementary and secondary education,” Tucker said.
He recommends that each state approve an instrument to screen kids for their basic skills at the beginning of their academic career, such as in first grade. And then have accountability tests just a few other times, such as at the end of fourth and 10th grades.

Even the College Board, the influential nonprofit that oversees the Advanced Placement program and the SAT college entrance exam, has done some soul-searching lately.

“We have enough assessments; what we need are more opportunities,” David Coleman, head of the College Board and before that, a chief architect of the Common Core standards, told urban district leaders in Milwaukee.

He said test prep for the SAT college entrance exam has in some ways widened the gulf between poor and disadvantaged students and wealthy students with more access to resources.

Coleman said the board needed to “dare to simplify” the exam, and to make sure that the barrier to college was not “an obscure litany of words.”At Riverside High School, Principal Michael Harris said this year administrators decided to eliminate the MAP test, which was previously given to ninth- and 12th-graders.

But the move didn’t exactly free up instructional time.The new suite of ACT tests simply took its place.

April 11, 2013

Texas Considers Backtracking on Testing

Filed under: Education Policy,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 5:52 am
By April 10, 2013 NYTimes

AUSTIN, Tex. — In this state that spawned test-based accountability in public schools and spearheaded one of the nation’s toughest high school curriculums, lawmakers are now considering a reversal that would cut back both graduation requirements and standardized testing.

The actions in Texas are being closely watched across the country as many states move to raise curriculum standards to meet the increasing demands of employers while grappling with critics who say testing has spun out of control.

The Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill this month that would reduce the number of exams students must pass to earn a high school diploma to 5, from 15. Legislators also proposed a change that would reduce the required years of math and science to three, from four. The State Senate is expected to take up a similar bill as early as this week.

The proposed changes have opened up a debate in the state and beyond. Proponents say teachers will be able to be more creative in the classroom while students will have more flexibility to pursue vocational or technically oriented courses of study.

But critics warn that the changes could result in the tracking of children from poor and minority families into classes that are less likely to prepare them for four-year colleges, and, ultimately, higher-paying careers.

“What we all know is when you leave it up to kids and schools, the poor kids and kids of color will be disproportionately not in the curriculum that could make the most difference for them,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial minorities and low-income children.

Texas is currently an outlier in both the number of exit exams it requires students to pass and the number of courses its default high school curriculum prescribes.

Legislators raised the number of high school exit exams to 15 from 4 in 2007, a year after they passed a law to automatically enroll all high school students in a curriculum that mandates four years of English, science, social studies and math, including an advanced algebra class. (Students may enroll in a less rigorous course of study with the permission of their parents.)

Texas now requires more than double the number of end-of-course exams used in any of the eight states that currently mandate that students pass such exams, according to the Education Commission of the States. And only two other states and the District of Columbia set similar graduation requirements, according to Achieve, a nonprofit organization that works to upgrade graduation criteria.

Here in Texas, the backlash has been fiercest among parents and educators who believe testing has become excessive, particularly after a period when the state cut its budget for education.

On a recent afternoon, Joanne Salazar pulled out a copy of a testing calendar for the school in Austin where her daughter is a sophomore. “Of the last 12 weeks of school, 9 are impacted by testing,” Ms. Salazar said. “It has really started to control the schedule.”

Test critics also argue that standardized tests stifle experimentation in the classroom. “It turns our schools into these cookie-cutter manufacturing plants,” said Dineen Majcher, president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, a grass-roots group.

Some educators say the tests do not account for students who learn at different paces. “We expect every student to perform at certain levels with the same amount of time,” said H.D. Chambers, superintendent of the Alief Independent School District west of Houston. “That’s fundamentally flawed.”

But at a time when about half of the students who enroll in community colleges in Texas require remedial math classes, Michael L. Williams, the state’s commissioner of education, called the proposed changes “an unfortunate retreat.”

“What gets tested gets taught,” Mr. Williams said. “What we treasure, we measure.”

Champions of more stringent graduation requirements say they also help push students — particularly those who do not come from families in which college attendance is assumed — to achieve at levels they might not have considered on their own.

Since the tougher recommended curriculum was signed into law, the proportion of Texas high school graduates taking at least one Advanced Placement exam who were from low income backgrounds rose to 45.3 percent in 2012, from 30.5 percent in 2007.

But some argue that the current recommended curriculum could drive more students to drop out if they struggle with advanced courses. (The graduation rate in Texas actually rose from 63 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2011, the most recent year for which state education agency data is available.)

Defenders of the current curriculum come from “the elitist in our society who devalue blue-collar work and believe every student must get a four-year college degree,” said Daniel Patrick, a Republican senator from Houston who has sponsored Senate versions of the education bill.

Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, the Republican from Killeen who sponsored the House bill (which passed 147 to 2), said the revised curriculum would give students more options, including community colleges or technical schools. “I don’t want them to have to choose up or choose down,” Mr. Aycock said, “but choose what’s right for them.”

Some business leaders say that without advanced requirements, students will not be prepared for the kinds of jobs employers need to fill. “The jobs of today require higher level skills,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Business Association.

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the governor favored a curriculum that required four years of math and science and “does not support efforts that lessen the accountability and academic rigor that prepares our students for career and college.”

Senator Leticia R. Van de Putte, a Democrat from San Antonio, said she was proposing an amendment that would require four years of math and science, although allow students to substitute more applied courses for advanced algebra or subjects like physics. “This allows for relevance and flexibility while maintaining high rigor,” she said.

But some principals and guidance counselors, along with civil rights groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens, fear that low-income and minority students could slip through the cracks.

“It puts more of the onus on the school to make sure that kids are taking the most rigorous courses possible,” said Daniel Girard, principal of Akins High School in Austin. With large class sizes and shrinking budgets for guidance counseling, he said, “some adults may not push kids on the potential that is there when it’s not required by the state as a graduation plan.”

One morning last week, several high school seniors, all from low-income families, gathered in the Akins guidance office beneath dozens of college pennants hanging from the ceiling.

Nathaniel Buescher, 18, is considering offers from Columbia, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Texas and Yale. His mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico without a high school diploma, and his father never attended college. But his elder sister and brother both advised him to “take the hardest classes that are available.”

Proponents of the changes in the default curriculum say students can continue to select the most advanced classes. But those who want to take math or writing classes geared toward technical careers will be able to do so.

“There is a fundamental policy disagreement between those that think kids can’t make choices and will take the easy way out,” said Hector L. Rivero, president of the Texas Chemical Council and a member of Jobs for Texas, a coalition of employers and industry trade groups, “and those of us who believe that kids can make the right choices given the right support and direction.”

Even some students say, though, that standards help guide their choices.

“If they are allowed the option to not take a harder math class, of course they’re not going to do that,” said Anthony Tomkins, 18, a senior at Akins who plans to attend Texas A&M. “So forcing it upon us in the long run is actually a good thing.”

June 26, 2012

National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing

Filed under: Testing Issues — millerlf @ 7:58 am

This resolution is modeled on the resolution passed by more than 360 Texas school boards as of April 23, 2012. It was written by Advancement Project; Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; FairTest; Forum for Education and Democracy; MecklenburgACTS; Deborah Meier; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; National Education Association; New York Performance Standards Consortium; Tracy Novick; Parents Across America; Parents United for Responsible Education – Chicago; Diane Ravitch; Race to Nowhere; Time Out From Testing; and United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

We encourage organizations and individuals to publicly endorse it (see below). Organizations should modify it as needed for their local circumstances while also endorsing this national version.

WHEREAS, our nation’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation’s social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the governor, state legislature and state education boards and administrators to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools; and

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.

Endorse the resolution as an organization
See list of organizational signers
Endorse the resolution as an individual
See list of individual signers

printer-friendly version (with bibliography)

June 9, 2011

Reformers, please listen to what parents want for schools

Filed under: School Reform,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 1:04 pm

By Helen Gym, Special to CNN June 8, 2011

Editor’s note: Helen Gym is a Philadelphia public school parent and writer and founder of Parents United for Public Education, which seeks classroom-centered investments in education budgets. She is a board member of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, where she contributes online commentary. She helped found the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School in Philadelphia Chinatown and was named the Philadelphia Inquirer Citizen of the Year for 2007 for education activism.

Philadelphia (CNN) — Many of those who are driving education policy today are fixed on a certain set of numbers and measurements that we’re told are the way to gauge a quality school. But as a parent, that’s not really what matters to me about my daughter’s education.

I can’t tell you the number of her standardized test score from last year. I can’t tell you the name of the curriculum program her school uses for math and reading. I don’t know the pay scale of each of her teachers and whether that contributes to their malaise or enthusiasm in the classroom.

But here’s what I can tell you about my daughter’s education.

I can tell you the name of the history teacher who inspired her this year, the book that she loved and couldn’t stop talking about and the topic of the reflective essay she labored to write and rewrite.

I can tell you which teachers gave homework assignments that made some of our family evenings perfectly miserable and the community service projects that had our whole family out cleaning the streets or readying a garden.

I can tell you what it felt like when the principal of a school shrugged her shoulders after I complained my daughter had been pushed down the stairs (we left that school) and what it felt like when the new principal stood outside greeting children by name as they entered every morning.

I can tell you that my mother cried when my youngest daughter’s school choir sang “Arirang,” a traditional Korean song, and that I loved every squeak and clank of the school orchestra.

I can tell you all of these things because as a parent, the true meaning of a quality school lies in a strong child- and family-centered educational mission that recognizes education as a “process of living” and school life as “real and vital” to our children and families, as American philosopher John Dewey wrote more than half a century ago.

This is what matters to me, but it’s apparently not a priority when it comes to national debates about education reform. For many parents, the elements of what makes a quality school seem completely at odds with the national buzz about education reform:

— While parents talk about programs rich in the arts, sciences and history, politicians talk about covering the basics through a one-size-fits-all curricula.

— While we talk about building critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers for a complicated and dynamic world, they talk about hiring billion-dollar testing companies that infiltrate every aspect of teaching and learning, drilling the notion of knowledge down to a single test score.

— While we talk about smaller class sizes to help students and teachers build nurturing relationships with one another, they talk about maximizing capacity and “creating efficiencies.”

— While we talk about building an experienced, stable and professional teaching force where teachers are prepared with a depth of knowledge in their subject areas and are committed to the profession, others talk about relying on a temporary teaching force or focusing on education managers.

— While we talk about sustainable change based upon policies that have been proved to work, politicians and the private sector demand dramatic and disruptive changes that do little to significantly improve children’s educational experiences.

And in this lies the critical difference between what many parents see as their hopes for a quality school system and the politicians and billionaire venture philanthropists dominating the education reform landscape. The latter have become so enamored with the structure and management of education that they’ve forgotten about the substance and practice of it.

So if this is what’s meaningful to parents and families, how can policymakers help to support those goals?

They can start by listening to what parents around the country are saying we need our elected officials to do. Parents Across America, a national organization of parents, recently released its own blueprint for school reform.

Among the suggestions: Address the dramatic inequity in resources within and among school districts so we can maintain smaller class sizes and early childhood programs. Create strong, effective support for teachers, provide a rich well-rounded curriculum, and create multiple ways to evaluate teaching and learning. Make parental involvement meaningful and include roles for governance.

In her book “The Next American Revolution,” Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs decries a system of education that views children as passive receptacles of information that routinely passes as knowledge. Instead, she challenges us to give our children the kind of education that creates tomorrow’s leaders by unleashing their creative energy “to heal the Earth and build durable economies and communities,” “create a vibrant society” and a “democratic citizenry.”

This is the direction our nation should be moving in, with elected leaders working alongside parents and community members to truly transform our schools.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Helen Gym.

November 11, 2010

Respected Teacher Commits Suicide Following LA Times Published Ratings of All Los Angeles Public School Teachers

Rigoberto Ruelas was rated “less effective than average” by the school district. This was published in the Los Angeles Times.

Teacher’s Death Exposes Tensions in Los Angeles

By IAN LOVETT Published: November 9, 2010 NYTimes

LOS ANGELES — Colleagues of Rigoberto Ruelas were alarmed when he failed to show up for work one day in September. They described him as a devoted teacher who tutored students before school, stayed with them after and, on weekends, took students from his South Los Angeles elementary school to the beach.

When his body was found in a ravine in the Angeles National Forest, and the coroner ruled it a suicide, Mr. Ruelas’s death became a flash point, drawing the city’s largest newspaper into the middle of the debate over reforming the nation’s second-largest school district.

When The Los Angeles Times released a database of “value-added analysis” of every teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District in August, Mr. Ruelas was rated “less effective than average.” Colleagues said he became noticeably depressed, and family members have guessed that the rating contributed to his death.

On Monday, a couple hundred people marched to the Los Angeles Times building, where they waved signs and chanted, demanding that the newspaper remove Mr. Ruelas’s name from the online database.

“Who got the ‘F’? L.A. Times,” chanted the crowd, which was made up mostly of students, teachers and parents from Miramonte Elementary School, where Mr. Ruelas taught fifth grade.

The value-added assessments of teachers — which use improvements in student test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness — has grown in popularity across the country with support from the federal Department of Education, which has tied teacher evaluations to the Race to the Top state-grant program.

But their use remains controversial. Teachers’ unions argue that the method is unfair and incomplete and have fought its implementation across the country.

The Los Angeles Times compiled its database using seven years of standardized test scores obtained through a public records request.

A. J. Duffy, president of the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which helped organize Monday’s event, held up Mr. Ruelas as an example of the problems with value-added assessments.

“Value-added assessments are a flawed system,” Mr. Duffy said. “This was a great teacher who gave a lot to the community.”

The newspaper has refrained from commenting on the issue beyond a statement issued after Mr. Ruelas’s death: “The Times continues to extend our sympathy to Mr. Ruelas’s family, students, friends and colleagues. The Times published the database, which is based on seven years of state test scores in the L.A.U.S.D. schools, because it bears directly on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to judge the data for themselves.”

Teachers’ unions have largely opposed moves away from the tenure system, in which layoffs are based on seniority, not performance.

Recently, in Washington, where the school chancellor, Michelle Rhee, used comprehensive teacher evaluations to fire hundreds of “ineffective” teachers, their unions poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign to unseat her main supporter, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Mr. Fenty lost the Democratic primary in September, and Ms. Rhee resigned the next month.

Despite opposition from the teachers union, Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out in support of greater transparency in teacher evaluations, and the New York City Department of Education is also preparing to release data reports on its teachers, pending the result of a court hearing later this month.

In Los Angeles, where the school district has moved toward significant reforms, like handing control of some chronically low-performing campuses to charter school operators, members of the school board have increasingly pushed to implement value-added assessments.

“Not including value-added measures is not acceptable,” said Yolie Flores, a board member of the Los Angeles Unified School District. “But it also has to be part of a more comprehensive system of evaluation.”

Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution who studies school accountability systems, said the value-added assessments should be combined with other factors. But he said the tenure system did not offer any meaningful evaluation of teacher performance.

“Now that The L.A. Times has published these scores, I think the genie is out of the bottle, and parents are going to want this information,” Mr. Hanushek said. “I presume the union’s opposition is a last effort of the teachers’ union to say that you should never evaluate teachers. This is their attempt to take a tragic situation and turn it into one that they can use for their own political advantage.”

But Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, argued that reliance on value-added assessments actually hindered efforts to carry out comprehensive teacher evaluations.

“Our union has proposed a comprehensive system of teacher evaluation that more than 50 districts have adopted,” Ms. Weingarten said. “The good work we’re doing trying to make comprehensive teacher evaluations will actually be hurt by this fixation on a value-added system.”

November 1, 2010

Ravitch on how wrong ‘Superman’ really is

Filed under: Education Policy,Testing Issues,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 11:28 am
This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch on her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website.
Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.

Dear Deborah,
I reviewed “Waiting for ‘Superman’” for The New York Review of Books. I thought the movie was very slick, very professional, and very propagandistic. It is one-sided and very contemptuous of public education. Notably, the film portrayed not a single successful regular public school, and its heroic institutions were all charter schools.
There are many inaccuracies in the movie.
One that I describe in my review is Davis Guggenheim’s claim that 70 percent of 8th grade students read “below grade level.” He has a graphic where state after state is shown to have only a small proportion of students reading “on grade level” or “proficient.” The numbers are based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
But Guggenheim is wrong. NAEP doesn’t report grade levels. It reports achievement levels, and these do not correspond to grade levels. Nor does he understand the NAEP achievement levels or just how demanding NAEP’s “proficiency” level really is. To score below “proficient” on NAEP does NOT mean “below grade level.”
NAEP has four achievement levels.
The top level is called “advanced,” which represents the very highest level of student performance. Students who are “advanced” probably are at an A+; if they were taking an SAT, they would likely score somewhere akin to 750-800. These are the students who are likely to qualify for admission to our most selective universities.
Then comes “proficient,” which represents solid academic performance, equivalent to an A or a very strong B. Guggenheim assumes that any student who is below “proficient” cannot read at “grade level.” He is wrong.
The third level is “basic.” These are students who have achieved partial mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient. This would be equivalent, I believe, to a grade of C. Many (if not most) states use NAEP’s “basic” as their own definition of “proficient.” This is because they know that it is unrealistic to expect all students to be “A” students.
“Below basic” is the category that appears to be what Guggenheim means by his reference to “below grade level.” But in 8th grade reading, 25 percent of students are below basic, not 70 percent\
\If Guggenheim knew what he was talking about, he might have said that 70 percent of 8th grade students were unable to score the equivalent of an A, but that would not be an alarming figure. It would not be a very dramatic story had he said, in sonorous tones, “25 percent of our 8th grade students are ‘below basic’ in reading, and that figure includes students who are learning English and students with disabilities.”

June 11, 2010

Cheating Under NCLB

Filed under: Testing Issues — millerlf @ 2:18 pm

Under Pressure, Teachers Tamper With Tests

By TRIP GABRIEL Published: June 10, 2010

The staff of Normandy Crossing Elementary School outside Houston eagerly awaited the results of state achievement tests this spring. For the principal and assistant principal, high scores could buoy their careers at a time when success is increasingly measured by such tests. For fifth-grade math and science teachers, the rewards were more tangible: a bonus of $2,850.

But when the results came back, some seemed too good to be true. Indeed, after an investigation by the Galena Park Independent School District, the principal, assistant principal and three teachers resigned May 24 in a scandal over test tampering.

The district said the educators had distributed a detailed study guide after stealing a look at the state science test by “tubing” it — squeezing a test booklet, without breaking its paper seal, to form an open tube so that questions inside could be seen and used in the guide. The district invalidated students’ scores.

Of all the forms of academic cheating, none may be as startling as educators tampering with children’s standardized tests. But investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.

Colorado passed a sweeping law last month making teachers’ tenure dependent on test results, and nearly a dozen other states have introduced plans to evaluate teachers partly on scores. Many school districts already link teachers’ bonuses to student improvement on state assessments. Houston decided this year to use the data to identify experienced teachers for dismissal, and New York City will use it to make tenure decisions on novice teachers.

The federal No Child Left Behind law is a further source of pressure. Like a high jump bar set intentionally low in the beginning, the law — which mandates that public schools bring all students up to grade level in reading and math by 2014 — was easy to satisfy early on. But the bar is notched higher annually, and the penalties for schools that fail to get over it also rise: teachers and administrators can lose jobs and see their school taken over.

No national data is collected on educator cheating. Experts who consult with school systems estimated that 1 percent to 3 percent of teachers — thousands annually — cross the line between accepted ways of boosting scores, like using old tests to prep students, and actual cheating.

“Educators feel that their schools’ reputation, their livelihoods, their psychic meaning in life is at stake,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a nonprofit group critical of standardized testing. “That ends up pushing more and more of them over the line.”

Others say that every profession has some bad apples, and that high-stakes testing is not to blame. Gregory J. Cizek, an education professor at the University of North Carolina who studies cheating, said infractions were often kept quiet. “One of the real problems is states have no incentive to pursue this kind of problem,” he said.

Recent scandals illustrate the many ways, some subtle, that educators improperly boost scores:

¶At a charter school in Springfield, Mass., the principal told teachers to look over students’ shoulders and point out wrong answers as they took the 2009 state tests, according to a state investigation. The state revoked the charter for the school, Robert M. Hughes Academy, in May.

¶In Norfolk, Va., an independent panel detailed in March how a principal — whose job evaluations had faulted the poor test results of special education students — pressured teachers to use an overhead projector to show those students answers for state reading assessments, according to The Virginian-Pilot, citing a leaked copy of the report.

¶In Georgia, the state school board ordered investigations of 191 schools in February after an analysis of 2009 reading and math tests suggested that educators had erased students’ answers and penciled in correct responses. Computer scanners detected the erasures, and classrooms in which wrong-to-right erasures were far outside the statistical norm were flagged as suspicious.

The Georgia scandal is the most far-reaching in the country. It has already led to the referral of 11 teachers and administrators to a state agency with the power to revoke their licenses. More disciplinary referrals, including from a dozen Atlanta schools, are expected.

John Fremer, a specialist in data forensics who was hired by an independent panel to dig deeper into the Atlanta schools, and who investigated earlier scandals in Texas and elsewhere, said educator cheating was rising. “Every time you increase the stakes associated with any testing program, you get more cheating,” he said.

That was also the conclusion of the economist Steven D. Levitt, of “Freakonomics” fame and a blogger for The New York Times, who with a colleague studied answer sheets from Chicago public schools after the introduction of high-stakes testing in the 1990s concluded that 4 percent to 5 percent of elementary school teachers cheat.

Not everyone agrees. Beverly L. Hall, who, as the superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools has won national recognition for elevating test scores, said dishonesty was relatively low in education. “Teachers over all are principled people in terms of wanting to be sure what they teach is what students are learning,” she said.

Educators ensnared in cheating scandals rarely admit to wrongdoing. But at one Georgia school last year, a principal and an assistant principal acknowledged their roles in a test-erasure scandal.

For seven years, their school, Atherton Elementary in suburban Atlanta, had met the standards known in federal law as Adequate Yearly Progress — A.Y.P. in educators’ jargon — by demonstrating that a rising share of students performed at grade level.

Then, in 2008, the bar went up again and Atherton stumbled. In June, the school’s assistant principal for instruction, reviewing student answer sheets from the state tests, told her principal, “We cannot make A.Y.P.,” according to an affidavit the principal signed.

“We didn’t discuss it any further,” the principal, James L. Berry, told school district investigators. “We both understood what we meant.”

Pulling a pencil from a cup on the desk of Doretha Alexander, the assistant principal, Dr. Berry said to her, “I want you to call the answers to me,” according to an account Ms. Alexander gave to investigators.

The principal erased bubbles on the multiple-choice answer sheets and filled in the right answers.

Any celebrations over the results were short-lived. Suspicions were raised in December 2008 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which noted that improvements on state tests at Atherton and a handful of other Georgia schools were so spectacular that they approached a statistical impossibility. The state conducted an analysis of the answer sheets and found “overwhelming evidence” of test tampering at Atherton.

Crawford Lewis, the district superintendent at the time, summoned Dr. Berry and Ms. Alexander to separate meetings. During four hours of questioning — “back and forth, back and forth, back and forth,” Dr. Lewis said — principal and assistant principal admitted to cheating.

“They both broke down” in tears, Dr. Lewis said.

Dr. Lewis said that Dr. Berry, whom he had appointed in 2005, had buckled under the pressure of making yearly progress goals. Dr. Berry was a former music teacher and leader of celebrated marching bands who, Dr, Lewis said, had transferred some of that spirit to passing the state tests in a district where schools hold pep rallies to get ready.

Dr. Berry, who declined interview requests, resigned and was arrested in June 2009 on charges of falsifying a state document. In December, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation. The state suspended him from education for two years and Ms. Alexander for one year. (Dr. Lewis, who stepped down as superintendent, was indicted last month on unrelated charges stemming from an investigation into school construction, which he denied.)

Dr. Lewis called for refocusing education away from high-stakes testing because of the distorted incentives it introduces for teachers. “When you add in performance pay and your evaluation could possibly be predicated on how well your kids do testing-wise, it’s just an enormous amount of pressure,” he said.

“I don’t say there’s any excuse for doing what was done, but I believe this problem is going to intensify before it gets better.”

April 6, 2010

Diane Ravitch: New York education officials are lying to the state’s schoolkids

Filed under: Charter Schools,School Reform,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 7:27 pm

BY Diane Ravitch

Wednesday, March 31st 2010

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that when states lower their standards, “We are lying to our children.” He must be talking about New York State, which has a well-established record of lying to our children about their progress in school.

Every year, state officials announce another set of dramatic gains on state tests for the children of New York.

And every year, state officials lie to our children.

According to the state, the percentage of fourth-grade students who were proficient readers soared from 48% in 1999 to 77% last year, an impressive feat. Eighth-grade students made no progress from 1999, when only 48% were proficient, until 2006. Then their achievement soared and, by last year, the state proudly announced that 69% of eighth-graders had achieved proficiency on state tests.

In math, the percentage of fourth-graders who were proficient by New York State standards shot up from 67% in 1999 to 87% in 1999. The eighth-grade math scores skyrocketed from 38% in 1999 to 80% last year.

But last week, the federal government released scores for the nation and the states, and New York did not fare well. In fact, almost all of New York’s reported gains for the past seven years disappeared into thin air.

The federal test – the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP – is the gold standard of testing. Congress requires all states to take NAEP tests to audit state claims. The federal audit was an embarrassment for New York.

The reading scores released last week show that 36% of New York’s fourth-graders – not 77% – are proficient. And unlike the state scores, which have gone up every year without fail, the state scores on NAEP for fourth-graders have been flat since 2002. The federal test continues to show huge achievement gaps: 45% of white students are proficient, as are 52% of Asians. This contrasts with 18% of black students and 22% of Hispanic students.

In eighth grade, the picture is no better. On the NAEP test, 33% of our students are proficient in reading, not the 69% claimed by the state. The federal test shows zero improvement at this grade since 1998. And the racial achievement gap is shocking: 44% of whites are proficient, as are 49% of Asians, but only 13% of blacks and 16% of Hispanics.

In math, the state does slightly better, but not much. The federal tests show 40% of our fourth-grade students are proficient, while the state says it is 87%. Over time, the federal scores have improved for this grade, but not for eighth grade. There, only 34% are proficient, not the 80% claimed by the state. And, unlike the state, which has boasted of big improvements in the eighth grade, the federal tests reveal that there have been no gains in eighth grade since 2003.

If students in New York made no gains on the national tests, why did state tests report spectacular progress every year? The people of the state deserve an honest answer.

Fortunately, there is new leadership in Albany. Merryl Tisch, the new chancellor of the Board of Regents, and David Steiner, the new state commissioner of education, have pledged to review the entire testing program. Surely they will determine how standards dropped so low that the public was regularly misinformed about student progress.

Now is the time for honesty, integrity and transparency.

Ravitch, a historian of education, is the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.”
Read more:

Next Page »

Blog at