Archives for category: NAEP

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been measuring national samples of students in grades 4 and 8 (and sometimes 12) since the early 1970s. It has been measuring state samples since 1992, and began assessing a few urban districts in 2003. It assesses students every two years in reading and math, and every several years in history, science, civics, and other subjects.

 

NAEP has always collected background information, which is self-reported about students’ reading habits, television viewing time, teacher practices, and other quantifiable aspects of tea hing and learning.

 

Now, NAEP will add grit, motivation, and mindset to the background information collected.

 

It will be interesting to see how these noncognitive traits are measured. Will students judge their own grit? Are they good judges of their grit? Will we someday know which states and cities have students with the most grit? And once we know, will officials create courses in how to improve grit?

 

I am reminded of a strange finding that emerged from international background questions two decades ago. Students were asked if they were good in math. Students in nations with the highest test scores said they were not very good in math; students in nations where test scores were middling thought they were really good at math.

 

What does it all mean? I don’t know, but it satisfies someone’s need for more data.

Peter Greene reports on the latest declaration that the sky is falling, released by the Foundation for Educational Excellence. FEE was established by Jeb Bush to push the Florida Miracle, digital learning, vouchers, charters, and high-stakes testing. When Jeb! decided to run for President, he stepped down and Condoleeza Rice took his place. She has been quiet, perhaps because she is learning the ropes about education. While Condi is studying up, Jeb!s righthand woman, Patricia Levesque wrote this latest blast at America’s terrible schools.

Quite frankly, I wonder why everyone swallows the latest alarm. We are,after all, the most powerful nation on earth. If our schools are so awful, how did we achieve economic, military, and cultural success? Sure, we have problems, big problems, especially segregation and poverty. But that is never what reformsters worry about. They work on the assumption that if they could get the right standards and the right tests, poverty would disappear.

FEE has discovered an earth-shattering crisis: the “Proficiency Gap.” It seems that NAEP has a higher standard for proficiency than almost every state. This is not a new finding. I think it has been written about many times. The NAEP “proficiency” standard is very high; it represents a very high level of performance on the NAEP tests. States, which must be concerned about getting kids through high school, do not set as high a standard as NAEP. NAEP proficiency was never meant to be a goal that all or almost all students could reach. No matter how high your expectations, some kids will not do as well as others. Not all will achieve A-level performance.

Greene’s complaint is that FEE never defines what proficiency is or how it should be measured. FEE seems to assume that a score on tests of reading and math are all that is needed to predict whether students are ready for college and careers. Peter has too much experience to accept that claim, especially when it comes from privatization advocates with no classroom experience.

Greene asks:

Is there a proficiency gap?

Between what and what? If the assertion is that we have a gap between the results of one lousy standardized test and another different lousy standardized test, then, yeah, I guess so, but so what? If the gap is between what we tell students they can accomplish and what they actually are able to accomplish– well, where’s the evidence? Oh, I know what reformsters believe– that all the poverty in the country is the result of students who couldn’t score high enough on a standardized test. This strikes me as highly unlikely, though I get that there are many possible explanations for and solutions to widespread poverty. But if we’ve had the most terrible education system in the world, and we should fear that because it will lead to failure and collapse, I just feel as if the country isn’t doing as badly as all these chicken littling privatizers want to say, and where I do see failure, I see problems of racism and systemic barriers to class mobility. Oddly enough, race and poverty do not appear as issues on the proficiency gap site.

So if FEE is declaring that states need to do more about closing the resource gap and the opportunity gap and the stupid racist barriers gap, that would be swell. But I’ve read enough FEE materials to suspect that they’re chicken littling in one more act of “There’s a terrible emergency, so you must do as we say!!” The Honesty Gap folks wanted us all to buy more PARCC and SBA tests, and Common Core harder, as well as handing over more public schools to private interests. Oh, and stop opting out. This seems like more of the same old stuff aimed primarily at helping privatizers close their revenue gaps.

One of the most annoying features of the Common Core standards is its mandate imposing set percentages of fiction and informational text. I know of no other national educational standards that impose such a rigid division. This mandate is absurd. It should be eliminated.

 

The New York Times reports on the controversy here in typical Times style, quoting some who say they like the new approach while others say they don’t like it at all.

 

“The new standards stipulate that in elementary and middle school, at least half of what students read during the day should be nonfiction, and by 12th grade, the share should be 70 percent.”

 

Where did these numbers come from? Not research. They happen to be the same as the instructions to assessment developers for the federal test called NAEP. NAEP wanted a mix of fiction and informational text. They were not concocted as guidelines for teachers. Yet the CCSS project adopted them as a national mandate, with no evidence. Is there evidence that students who read more nonfiction than literature are better prepared for colleges and careers? No. There is none. None.

 

There is absolutely no valid justification for this mandate. When it was challenged five years ago as a threat to the teaching of literature, the authors of the CC said there was a misunderstanding. They said the proportions were written for the entire curriculum, not just for English classes, so the nonfiction in math, science, and other classes would leave English teachers free to teach literature, as usual. This was silly. How many classes in math, science, civics, and history were reading fiction? Clearly the goal was to force English teachers to teach nonfiction, on the assumption that fiction does not prepare you to be “college and career ready.”

 

And as the article shows, English teachers are taking the mandate seriously. Frankly, every English teacher should be free to decide what to teach. If he or she loves teaching literature, that’s her choice. If she loves teaching documents, essays, biographies, and other nonfiction, that’s her choice.

 

Or should be.

 

Now, read Peter Greene’s dissection of this article. He is outraged by the writer’s bland acceptance of Common Core’s nonsensical demands on English teachers, as well as the assumption that English teachers never taught non-fiction in the past. They did and do.

 

He lists the elements of the article that are infuriating. Here is one:

 

Taylor does not know where the informational text requirement came from.

 

Taylor notes that “the new standards stipulate” that a certain percentage (50 for elementary, 70 for high school) of a student’s daily reading diet should be informational. And that’s as deep as she digs.

 

But why is the informational requirement in the Common Core in the first place? There’s only one reason– because David Coleman thought it would be a good idea. All these years later, and not one shred of evidence, one scrap of research, not a solitary other nation that has used such a requirement to good results— there isn’t anything at all to back up the inclusion of the informational reading requirement in the standards except that David Coleman thought it would be a good idea. Coleman, I will remind you, is not a teacher, not an educator, not a person with one iota of expertise in teaching and is, in fact, proud of his lack of qualifications. In fact, Coleman has shared with us his thoughts about how to teach literature, and they are — not good. If Coleman were student teaching in my classroom, I would be sending him back to the drawing board (or letting him try his ideas out so that we could have a post-crash-and-burn “How could we do better” session).

 

Coleman has pulled off one of the greatest cons ever. If a random guy walked in off the street into your district office and said, “Hey, I want to rewrite some big chunks of your curriculum just because,” he would be justly ignored. But Coleman has managed to walk in off the street and force every American school district pay attention to him.

 

Here is another:

 

Taylor uses a quote to both pay lip service to and also to dismiss concerns about curricular cuts.

 

“Unfortunately there has been some elimination of some literature,” said Kimberly Skillen, the district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction in Deer Park, N.Y. But she added: “We look at teaching literature as teaching particular concepts and skills. So we maybe aren’t teaching an entire novel, but we’re ensuring that we’re teaching the concepts that that novel would have gotten across.”

 

So, you see, we really only use literature in the classroom as a sort of bucket to carry in little nuggets of concept and skill. The literature doesn’t really have any intrinsic value of its own. Why read the whole novel when we only really care about (aka test) a couple of paragraphs on page 142? If we were hoping to pick up some metaphor-reading skills along the way, why not just read a page of metaphor examples?

 

This is an attitude of such staggering ignorance and numbskullery that I hardly know how to address it. This is like saying, “Why bother with getting to know someone and dating and talking to each other and listening to each other and spending months just doing things together and sharing hopes and dreams and finally deciding to commit your lives to each other and planning a life together and then after all that finally sleeping together– why do all that when you could just hire a fifty-dollar hooker and skid straight to the sex?” It so completely misses the point, and if neither Taylor nor Skillen can see how it misses the point, I’m not even sure where to begin.

 

Literature creates a complex web of relationships, relationships between the reader and the author, between the various parts of the text, between the writing techniques and the meaning.

 

You don’t get the literature without reading the whole thing. The “we’ll just read the critical part of the work” school of teaching belongs right up there with a “Just the last five minutes” film festival. Heck, as long as you see the sled go into the furnace or the death star blow up or Kevin Spacey lose the limp, you don’t really need the rest of the film for anything, right?

 

And here is the truly outrageous change that Common Core is imposing on English classrooms across the nation: No need to read the whole novel or the whole play. Just read little chunks to get ready for the test. That is an outrage.

Peter Greene read a post that Checker Finn wrote for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s blog, in which Checker warned parents to be ready for the unpleasant news they would learn about their children’s failure when the Common Core tests results are reported. Peter did not agree with Checker because he thinks the tests are dumb, not the kids. Peter can’t understand why a “conservative” would want the federal government to take control of what all students in the nation ought to learn. He writes: Aren’t Fordham guys like Finn supposed to be conservatives? When did conservatives start saying, “The government should decide what a person is supposed to be like, telling people when they aren’t measuring up to government standards, and using government pressure to try to make them be the way the government says they should be.”

 

I am sort of in a tough spot here because Checker was my closest friend for many years. We worked together at the Educational Excellence Network, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (now Institute), the Koret Foundation at the Hoover Institution, and we shared many family events. However, when I turned against testing, choice, accountability, charters, and vouchers, our friendship did not survive. I am still fond of Checker, his wife Renu, and his children, but we don’t agree anymore about things we both care about, and we both understand that. I lost a very close friend when I changed my world views, and I am sad about that. But, I had no choice. Knowing Checker, he would do the same. But he didn’t.

 

I know that Checker has a low opinion of American students and teachers. He went to Exeter and Harvard, and very few meet his high expectations. When he was chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees NAEP, he led the creation of the achievement levels so the American public would see just how ill-educated their children were. The established NAEP scale was a proficiency scale from 0-500. Checker thought that the public did not derive a sufficient sense of urgency because they did not understand what it meant to be 350 or 425 on a scale of 500. What they would understand, he thought (correctly), was proficiency levels: basic, proficient, advanced (and, of course, the worst, below basic). He wanted the public to be duly alarmed at the sad state of education. Congress recognized that there is an arbitrary quality to proficiency levels; they still considered them to be “trials.” Experts disagree about how to set them and what they mean. Ultimately, the NAEP levels are set by panels of people from different walks of life who make judgment calls about what they think students in fourth grade and eighth grade ought to know. This is not science, this is human judgment.

 

Unfortunately, the public didn’t listen to the periodic alarums from NAEP and NAGB. The reports came out, and they didn’t get much attention. But after the passage of No Child Left Behind, the nation went into full-blown crisis mode about the state of education, and a hungry industry grew up to tutor, remediate, and school the students who didn’t pass their state tests. Then the charter industry emerged, and the henny-penny-sky-is-falling movement saw that the way to create a demand for charters and vouchers was to generate a steady narrative of “our schools in crisis.” Suddenly the regular NAEP reports were headline news. Suddenly the public became aware of the number of students who were “not proficient,” even though proficient was a very high bar indeed.

 

Now we have Common Core, more rigorous than any of the other standards, and Common Core tests, designed to find 70% of American kids falling short of the standards.

 

This is where Checker comes in again, to warn parents that their children will surely fail. Imagine this: the most powerful nation in the world, with the most advanced technology, the most influential culture, the biggest economy, yet somehow the schools that educated 90% of Americans are terrible. How can this be?

 

Peter Greene steps in now to take Checker on.

 

Read the whole thing, but here is the windup:

 

Finn’s basic complaint is that parents aren’t being forced to understand the Hard Truth that BS Tests prove that their children are dopes, and that said parents should be alarmed and upset. The Hard Truth that Finn doesn’t face is that the PARCC and SBA provide little-to-no useful information, and that parents are far more likely to turn to trusted teachers and their own intimate knowledge of their own children than to what seems to be an unfair, irrational, untested, unvalidated system.

 

Yes, some parents have trouble facing some truths about their own children. There can’t be a classroom teacher in the country that hasn’t seen that in action, and it can be sad. I’m not so sure that it’s sadder, however, than a parent who believes that his child is a stupid, useless loser. Finn seems really invested in making that parents hear bad news about their kids; I’m genuinely curious about what he envisions happening next. A parent pulls the small child up into a warm embrace to say, “You know, you’re not that great.” A parent makes use of a rare peaceful evening at home with a teenager to say, “I wish your test results didn’t suck so badly. Would you please suck less?” What exactly is the end game of this enforced parental eye opening?

 

Okay, I can guess, given the proclivities of the market-based reformster crowd. What happens next is that the parents express shock that Pat is so far off the college and career ready trail and quickly pulls Pat out of that sucky public school to attend a great charter school with super-duper test scores. The market-driven reform crowd wants to see an open education market driven by pure data– not the fuzzy warm love-addled parental data that come from a lifetime of knowing and loving their flesh and blood intimately, and not even the kind of chirpy happy-talk data that come from teachers who have invested a year in working with that child, but in the cold, hard deeply true data that can come from an efficient, number-generating standardized test. That’s what should drive the market.

 

Alas, no such data exists. No test can measure everything, or even anything, that matters in a child and in the child’s education. No test can measure the deep and wide constellation of capabilities that we barely cover under headings like “character” or “critical thinking.”

 

Folks like Finn try hard to believe that such magical data-finding tests can exist. They are reluctant to face the Hard Truth that they are looking for centaur-operated unicorn farms. The unfortunate truth is that they have dragged the rest of the country on this fruitless hunt with them.

The new Common Core tests funded by the federal government agreed to adopt the standard of “proficiency” used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Students who are not “proficient” are deemed to have “failed” to meet the standards. They are described as “not proficient,” which is a very bad thing indeed.

But what does NAEP proficiency mean?

I served on the NAEP governing board for seven years. I understood that “proficient” was a very high standard. There are four NAEP achievement levels: Advanced (typically reached by 5-8% of students); Proficient (typically reached by about 35-40% of students); Basic (typically reached by about 75% of students); and Below Basic (very poor performance, about 20-25% of students). Thus, by aligning its “pass” mark with NAEP proficient, the PARCC and SBAC (the two testing groups) were choosing a level that most students will not reach. Only in Massachusetts have as many as 50% of students reached NAEP proficient. Nearly half have not.

As Catherine Gewertz wrote in Education Week, “The two common-assessment consortia are taking early steps to align the “college readiness” achievement levels on their tests with the rigorous proficiency standard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a move that is expected to set many states up for a steep drop in scores.
After all, fewer than four in 10 children reached the “proficient” level on the 2013 NAEP in reading and math.”

So, if these consortia intend to align with the very rigorous standards of NAEP, most students will fail the tests. They will fail them every year. Will the test results be used for promotion and/or graduation? If so, we can expect a majority of the current generation of students not to be promoted or graduate from high school. What will we do with them?

It is time to ask whether NAEP proficient is the right “cut score” (passing mark). I think it is not. To me, given my knowledge of NAEP achievement levels, proficient represents solid academic performance, a high level of achievement. I think of it as an A. Advanced, to me, is A+. Anyone who expects the majority of students to score an A on their state exams is being, I think, wildly unrealistic. Please remember that NAEP proficient represents a high level of achievement, not a grade level mark or a pass-fail mark. NAEP basic would be a proper benchmark as a passing grade, not NAEP proficient.

Furthermore, the NAEP achievements levels have been controversial ever since they were first promulgated in the early 1990s when Checker Finn was chairman of the NAEP governing board. Checker was subsequently president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute, and he has long believed that American students are slackers and need rigorous standards (as a member of his board for many years, I agreed with him then, not now). He believed that the NAEP scale scores (0-500) did not show the public how American students were doing, and he was a strong proponent of the achievement levels, which were set very high.

James Harvey, a former superintendent who runs the National Superintendents’ Roundtable, wrote an article in 2011 that explains just how controversial the NAEP achievement levels are.

He wrote then:

Since definition is crucial in any discussion of standards, let’s define the terms of the discussion. The No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress in 2001 as the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, permitted states to develop their own assessments and set their own proficiency standards to measure student achievement. Most states, for their purposes, quite sensibly defined proficiency as performance at grade level.

What about NAEP? Oddly, NAEP’s proficient standard has little to do with grade-level performance or even proficiency as most people understand the term. NAEP officials like to think of the assessment standard as “aspirational.” In 2001, long before the current contretemps around state assessments, two experts associated with the National Assessment Governing Board—Mary Lynne Bourque, staff member to the governing board, and Susan Loomis, a member of the board—made it clear that “the proficient achievement level does not refer to ‘at grade’ performance. Nor is performance at the proficient level synonymous with ‘proficiency’ in the subject. That is, students who may be considered proficient in a subject, given the common usage of the term, might not satisfy the requirements for performance at the NAEP achievement level.”

It is hardly surprising, then, that most state assessments aimed at establishing proficiency as “at grade” produce results different from a NAEP standard in which proficiency does not refer to “at grade” performance or even describe students that most would think of as proficient. Far from supporting the NAEP proficient level as an appropriate benchmark for state assessments, many analysts endorse the NAEP basic level as the more appropriate standard because NAEP’s current standard sets an unreasonably high bar.

What is striking in reviewing the history of NAEP is how easily its governing board has shrugged off criticisms about the board’s standards-setting processes.

In 1993, the National Academy of Education argued that NAEP’s achievement-setting processes were “fundamentally flawed” and “indefensible.” That same year, the General Accounting Office concluded that “the standard-setting approach was procedurally flawed, and that the interpretations of the resulting NAEP scores were of doubtful validity.” The National Assessment Governing Board, or NAGB, which oversees NAEP, was so incensed by an unfavorable report it received from Western Michigan University in 1991 that it looked into firing the contractor before hiring other experts to take issue with the university researchers’ conclusions that counseled against releasing NAEP scores without warning about NAEP’s “conceptual and technical shortcomings.”

“Most state assessments aimed at establishing proficiency as ‘at grade’ produce results different from a NAEP standard.”
In addition, NAGB absorbed savage criticism from the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded in 1999 that “NAEP’s current achievement-level-setting procedures remain fundamentally flawed. The judgment tasks are difficult and confusing; raters’ judgments of different item types are internally inconsistent; appropriate validity evidence for the cut scores is lacking; and the process has produced unreasonable results. … The results are not believable.”

For the most part, such pointed criticism has rolled off the governing board like so much water off a duck’s back.
As recently as 2009, the U.S. Department of Education received a report on NAEP from the University of Nebraska’s Buros Institute. This latest document expressed worries about NAEP’s “validity framework” and asked for a “transparent, organized validity framework, beginning with a clear definition of the intended and unintended uses of the NAEP assessment scores. We recommend that NAGB continue to explore achievement-level methodologies.” In short, for the last 20 years, it has been hard to find any expert not on the Education Department’s payroll who will accept the NAEP benchmarks uncritically.

Those benchmarks might be more convincing if most students outside the United States could meet them. That’s a hard case to make, judging by a 2007 analysis from Gary Phillips, a former acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. Phillips set out to map NAEP benchmarks onto international assessments in science and mathematics and found that only Taipei (or Taiwan) and Singapore have a significantly higher percentage of proficient students in 8th grade science than the United States does. In math, the average performance of 8th grade students in six jurisdictions could be classified as proficient: Singapore, South Korea, Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, and Flemish Belgium. Judging by Phillips’ results, it seems that when average results, by jurisdiction, place typical students at the NAEP proficient level, the jurisdictions involved are typically wealthy—many with “tiger mothers” or histories of excluding low-income students or those with disabilities.

None of this is to say that the method of determining the NAEP achievement levels is entirely indefensible. Like other large-scale assessments—the International Mathematics and Science Study, the Progress on International Reading Literacy Survey, and the Program on International Student Assessment—NAEP is an extremely complex endeavor, depending on procedures in which experts make judgments about what students should know and construct assessment items to distinguish between student responses. Panels then make judgments about specific items, and trained scorers, in turn, bring judgment to bear on constructed-response items, which typically make up about 40 percent of the assessment.

That said, it is hard to avoid some obvious conclusions. First, NAEP’s achievement levels, far from being engraved on stone tablets, are administered, as Congress has insisted, on a “trial basis.” Second, NAEP achievement levels are based on judgment and educated guesses, not science. Third, the proficiency benchmark seems reachable by most students in only a handful of wealthy or Asian jurisdictions.

It is important to know this history when looking at the results of the Common Core tests (PARCC and SBAC). The fact that they have chosen NAEP proficient as their cut score guarantees that most students will “fail” and will continue to “fail.” Exactly what is the point? It is a good thing to have high standards, but they should be reasonable and attainable. NAEP proficient is not attainable by most students. Not because they are dumb, but because it is the wrong cut score for a state examination. It is “aspirational,” like running a four-minute mile. Some runners will be able to run a four-minute mile, but most cannot and never will. Virtually every major league pitcher aspires to pitch a no-hitter, but very few will do it. The rest will not, and they are not failures.

What parents and teachers need to know is that the testing consortia have chosen a passing mark that is inappropriate, that is not objective, and that is certain to fail most students. That’s not right, and that’s not fair.

New York State has bumbled into bizarre-O land. Chalkbeat reports that Néw York’s Common Core tests are more difficult than NAEP.

The NAEP tests are supposed to be internationally benchmarked. NAEP proficient is a very high standard that most students have never met (except in Massachusetts, where barely 50% reach proficient).

“In eighth-grade math, 22 percent of students earned what New York state called a passing score last school year, while 32 percent were deemed proficient on the NAEP exams. In fourth-grade reading, 33 percent passed the state test, while 37 percent of students earned a proficient score on the NAEP test. (Massachusetts was the other outlier, with more students earning a proficient score on the eighth-grade math NAEP test than on the state’s own tests.)”

State officials are pleased that their standards are beyond the reach of most students. For some strange reason, high failure rates are a source of pride. Bizarre.

The more they design tests to fail most students, the more the Opt Out movement will grow. When did education fall into the hands of technocratic sadists? They think education is a test of endurance, where only the stirring survive. Parents see education as a process of development, not a cruel race.

When I spoke to the Texas School Boards Association a few years ago, a member of the audience got up and identified himself as a school board member and an engineer. He said that he didn’t understand why the government tests every child every year. He said that in the industry where he works, it is customary to test the products periodically, on a sampling basis. I will never forget what he said: “If we tested every product, we would spend most of our time testing the product, and we wouldn’t have time left to manufacture or to improve the product.”

 

I was reminded of that statement when I received this comment from Doug Garnett, who is a specialist in marketing, advertising, branding, communications, and technology. Garnett wrote, just minutes ago:

 

Where I’m mystified is this belief that in order to have “accountability”, EVERY child has to be tested in the entire nation.

 

In business, we rely heavily on statistical sampling because it’s flat out too expensive to measure every item. Sampling in manufacturing, sampling in store satisfaction, sampling in purchasing, sampling in advertising impact, sampling, sampling sampling.

 

The NAEP relies on sampling…because it’s EFFECTIVE!

 

Imagine this: IF we shifted to a sampling test approach an amazing array of issues would be mitigated. The tests would lose their intensely punitive nature – and evolve toward being instructive and enlightening. They would lose the “high stakes” and become simply learning that informs. And, WE could use their reduced presence to focus on the totality of education instead of creating testing farms.

 

So…why don’t these so-called “business people” behind reform endorse smart business approach like sampling? Mind boggling…unless we embrace the conspiracy to redirect all of that government spending into the profits of private corporations.

According to Politico.com, Senator Lamar Alexander is considering eliminating the federal mandate for annual testing in grades 3-8. Charles Barone of the hedge fund managers’ “Democrats for Education Reform” is alarmed by this proposal, claiming it is an “equity” issue that would make it impossible to compare states.

Why the need to compare test scores is an equity issue is unexplained. Apparently Barone–who used to work for Congressman George Miller, senior Democrat on the House Education Committee–is unfamiliar with NAEP. That is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which has been testing American students since 1969. It has been comparing states since 1992 and disaggregating scores by race, gender, language, and disability status. I hope proponents of annual testing will soon explain how comparing states creates equity. We know that Mississippi has lower scores than Massachusetts, whether we test annually or every three years. The gap is not changed by knowing about it more frequently but by funding schools attended by low-performing students so they can have smaller classes, more arts programs, more specialists, better paid professionals, and amply supplied and staffed libraries.

Here is the story:

THE GOP DRAFT YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR: Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander unveiled a discussion draft Tuesday night detailing his plan for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. It borrows heavily from his 2013 proposal [http://1.usa.gov/1C4GZNS ] and if passed, it would take the federal government right out of some of the Obama administration’s most contentious policies – providing relief to states that haven’t met the administration’s bar for accountability systems and teacher evaluations. The bill would give states the option to make more than $14 billion in Title I funding portable across public schools. Alexander’s draft also makes clear that the federal government would have no involvement in states’ academic standards – although states would have to set high standards. When it comes to testing, one option would allow districts to forgo annual exams. Maggie Severns reports: http://politico.pro/14SYoPQ Read the discussion draft here: http://1.usa.gov/1swgqBH

– Some feel that testing option would make it impossible to compare results at the state level. “This, by extension, becomes an equity issue,” said Charles Barone, policy director for Democrats for Education Reform. “Any effort to advance equity requires comparability of student circumstances across zip codes, incomes, race, disability, etc. Any accountability system that drives to improve the achievement of those students and target resources toward them is out the window if every school or district is held accountable based on a different set of numbers.”

After four years of Governor Chris Christie, we are used to loud complaints about how terrible New Jersey’s schools are, how poorly they perform compared to Tennessee (Arne Duncan’s favorite), how expensive they are, how large the achievement gaps are.

Bruce Baker shows that none of this is true: New Jersey’s schools perform very well indeed, and they exceed expectations.

Baker documents what he says and concludes:

“To summarize:

“NJ schools do better than expected on NAEP given statewide poverty rates, ranking among the highest states.

“NJ schools have gained more on NAEP than nearly all other states (when correcting for starting point)

“NJ’s 8th grade achievement gaps are relatively average (when correcting for income gaps). The only NJ achievement gap that is greater than average is grade 8 reading.

“NJ’s 4th grade achievement gaps are among the smallest among states (when correcting for income gaps)

“So congratulations, NJ… you’re doin’ pretty well. That’s not to say by any stretch of the imagination that we should be complacent. We’ve still got Massachusetts to catch up to in most cases. They, not Tennessee or Louisiana are giving us a run for our money. And as I pointed out in my most recent post, we need to give serious consideration to reinvesting in our neediest communities. Prior investments (including early childhood programs) may provide partial explanation for why our fourth grade achievement gaps are so relatively small. But we’ve backed off substantially on funding fairness in recent years, the consequences of which are yet to be measured.”

Someone sent me this clip from Tennessee, where Arne Duncan was trying to salvage the federally-funded online Common Core test called PARCC.

“DUNCAN: TENNESSEE CAN STILL SALVAGE TESTS: At Brick Church College Prep in Nashville, Tenn., Education Secretary Arne Duncan showered the state with praise for becoming the fastest improving state in the country. But it still has a long way to go, he said after a town hall event [http://bit.ly/1tgEe8P ] with state chief Kevin Huffman. The legislature delayed Common Core-aligned PARCC tests for a year, but Tennessee has time for a fix, he said. “I think that having high standards is really important,” Duncan said. “Having an honest way to measure that you’re hitting those high standards and to have transparency across the country. So if all you’re able to do is measure Tennessee students against Tennessee students and not have any sense of how you’re doing versus Massachusetts or Kentucky or Mississippi, I think that misses the point. I think the state still has a chance to do the right thing going forward.”

Question: has Secretary of Education Duncan heard about the federally-funded National Assessment of Educational Progress? Since 1992, it has been measuring academic progress in the states. Using NAEP, it is possible to compare students in Tennessee to students in Massachusetts, Kentucky, Mississippi, and other states. Instead of testing every single student, it tests scientific samples in every state and nationally. It has no stakes attached. Isn’t that as much testing as we need to compare states?

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