Meeting test score standards – by lowering the bar

Today’s Wall Street Journal highlights a report for the U.S. Government’s National Center for Education Statistics. In case you have trouble following the link, here’s the discouraging news:

“Eight states have raised their standards for passing elementary-school math and reading tests in recent years, but these states and most others still fall below national benchmarks, according to a federal report released Wednesday.”

The data help explain the disconnect between the relatively high pass rates on many state tests and the low scores on the national exams, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In fourth-grade reading, for example, 35 states set passing bars that are below the “basic” level on the national NAEP exam. “Basic” means students have a satisfactory understanding of material, as opposed to “proficient,” which means they have a solid grasp of it. Massachusetts is the only state to set its bar at “proficient” — and that was only in fourth- and eighth-grade math.”

Utah shows up on the chart featured in the article, by the way. State reading standards fall almost 15 points below basic.

The article continues: “The report from the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, is certain to reinvigorate calls to overhaul No Child Left Behind. Critics of the federal education law, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, contend states watered down their exams to meet the law’s requirement that 100% of students taking state math and reading exams are passing by 2014.”

Okay, so No Child is Left Behind is flawed because it measures results by tests . . . or because the test results are bad . . . or because the tests don’t set the bar high enough? Or all of the above? Hmm.

Even NCLB supporters recognize that the law set standards too rigidly, and potentially penalized even schools that had significantly improved student learning. But I still contend that the law has made one very valuable contribution to the education reform debate. It’s given us some data, however discouraging. Now let’s do something about it.

Here’s the link to the Journal article, which may not be available to non-subscribers.

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