The squeaky-wheel parents and accountability-fearing teachers unions who have rebelled against Common Core exams claim to be shielding students from the distortions of high-stakes testing.
What they’re really at war with is reality.
New York’s exams have delivered urgent but inconvenient truths about our public schools’ failures. That’s the conclusion of a powerful new report by two advocacy organizations, Achieve and the Collaborative for Student Success.
The groups looked at state proficiency scores in reading and math — and lined them up against results from the federal National Assessment for Educational Progress, widely considered the gold standard for measuring achievement.
In most of the nation, states systematically deceive parents and teachers about what students know. But New York earned the honor of being the nation’s top “truth teller” — with exams that paint an honest picture of what kids are learning.
That’s something to celebrate. Unless you can’t handle the truth.
Let's talk about "handling the truth."
Here's a Diane Ravitch post from August 2013 on what the NAEP "proficiency" score really means:
NAEP has three levels: “Advanced” is the highest (only about 3-8% of students reach this level). “Proficient” is defined by the National Assessment Governing Board as “solid academic performance for each grade assessed. This is a very high level of academic achievement.”). “Basic” is “partial mastery” of the skills and knowledge needed at each grade tested.
“Proficient” on NAEP is what most people would consider to be the equivalent of an A. When I was a member of the NAEP governing board, we certainly considered proficient to be very high level achievement.
New York’s city and state officials have decided that NAEP’s “proficiency” level should be the passing mark.
They don’t understand that a student who is proficient on NAEP has attained “a very high level of academic achievement.”
Any state that expects all or most students to achieve an A on the state tests is setting most students up for failure.
If students need to reach “proficiency” just to pass, there will obviously be a very large number of students who “fail.”
B students and C students will fail.
The NAEP achievement levels have always been controversial. Many researchers and scholarly bodies have said they were unreasonably high and thus “fundamentally flawed.” That term “fundamentally flawed” occurs again and again in the literature of NAEP critics. This article by James Harvey is a good summary of these arguments.
Some on this blog have asked whether NAEP is a criterion-referenced test, and the answer is no. A criterion-referenced test is one that almost everyone can pass if they master the requisite skills. A test to get a drivers’ license is a criterion-referenced test. Anyone who studies the laws can pass the written test and qualify for a drivers’ license.
NAEP is not a criterion-referenced test. Massachusetts is the only state where as much as 50% of the students (and only in fourth grade) are rated proficient in reading. The NAEP tests are not designed to be criterion-referenced tests; they are a mix of questions that are easy, moderate, and difficult.
The achievement levels were created when Checker Finn was chair of NAGB. I think they are defensible if people understand that the achievement levels do not represent grade levels. If the public wants a measure of “grade level,” then “basic” probably comes closest to grade level. “Proficient” is not grade level; as NAGB documents state, it represents “a very high level of academic achievement.”
More important, the NAEP achievement levels were never intended to be measures of grade level, and New York officials are wrong to interpret them as such, especially when they mistakenly use “proficient” as the passing mark.
Any state that uses NAEP “proficient” as its definition of “grade level” is making a huge mistake; it will set the bar unreasonably high and will mislabel many students and misjudge the quality of many schools.
And that is exactly what happened in the New York testing fiasco.
If the state sticks to its present course of using NAEP “proficient” as its passing mark, it will encourage criticism of the Common Core standards as unrealistic and stoke parental outrage about Common Core testing.
People know their children, and they know their own school. The politicians may convince them that American education is floundering (even if it is not), but they can’t convince them that their own child and their own school are “failing” when parents know from their own experience that it is not true.
The corporate reformers now using the Shock Doctrine to bash the schools and disparage students may find that their tactic has backfired. They succeed only in adding fuel to the growing movement to stop the misuse of standardized testing.
What is happening in New York is likely to undermine public confidence in the state’s highest education officials and create new converts to the Opt-Out of Testing movement.
The Shock Doctrine may be a boomerang that helps to bring down the madness of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, the Pearson empire, and every other part of the reformy enterprise.
New York may have inadvertently created by the most powerful recruiting tool for the Opt Out movement.
Ravitch was quite prescient that New York's rigging of the Common Core exams would create a powerful recruiting tool for the Opt Out movement.
It certainly has done that.
As for not being able to handle the truth about failure, the editors at the Daily News really ought to look into the mirror.
The paper is losing $30 million a year and Cablevision just pulled back a $1 dollar bid to buy the paper because an internal analysis showed they would still lose a ton of money after purchasing the DN for just a buck.
The Daily News should spend less time trying to sell the new Common Core tests as accurate pictures of reality and more time trying to sell copies of the Daily News.
The data (i.e., $30 million a year in losses) does not lie.