Archives for category: NAEP

Valerie Strauss posted this article that I wrote on her Washington Post site “The Answer Sheet.” The tests now required by federal law are worthless. The results are reported too late to matter. The reports to teachers do not tell them what students do or do not know. The tests tell students whether they did well or poorly on a test they took six months ago. They do not measure “learning loss.”

Diane Ravitch is a former assistant secretary of education and historian. For more than a decade, she has been a leading advocate for America’s public education system and a critic of the modern “accountability” movement that has based school improvement measures in large part on high-stakes standardized tests.


In her influential 2010 book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” Ravitch explained why she dropped her support for No Child Left Behind, the chief education initiative of President George W. Bush, and for standardized test-based school “reform.”


Ravitch worked from 1991 to 1993 as assistant secretary in charge of research and improvement in the Education Department of President George H.W. Bush, and she served as counselor to then-Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, who had just left the Senate where he had served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. She was at the White House as part of a select group when George W. Bush first outlined No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a moment that at the time she said made her “excited and optimistic” about the future of public education.


But her opinion changed as NCLB was implemented and she researched its effects on teaching and learning. She found that the NCLB mandate for schools to give high-stakes annual standardized tests in math and English language arts led to reduced time — or outright elimination — of classes in science, social studies, the arts and other subjects.


She was a critic of President Barack Obama’s policies and his chief education initiative, Race to the Top, a multibillion-dollar competition in which states (and later districts) could win federal funds by promising to adopt controversial overhauls, including the Common Core State Standards, charter schools and accountability that evaluated teachers by student test scores.


In 2013, she co-founded an advocacy group called the Network for Public Education, a coalition of organizations that oppose privatizing public education and high-stakes standardized testing. She has since then written several other best-selling books and a popular blog focused primarily on education.


She was also appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, and served for seven years.

In the following post, she provides a historical overview of standardized testing — and takes issue with supporters who say that these exams provide data that helps teachers and students. Instead, she says, they are have no value in the classroom.


The subject has resonance at the moment because the Biden administration must decide soon whether to give states a waiver from the federal annual testing mandate. The Trump administration did so last year after schools abruptly closed when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, but said it wouldn’t do it again if President Donald Trump won reelection. Trump lost, and now Biden’s Education Department is under increasing pressure to give states permission not to administer the 2021 tests.

By Diane Ravitch


I have been writing about standardized tests for more than 20 years. My 2000 book, “Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform,” included a history of I.Q. testing, which evolved into the standardized tests used in schools and into the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known now simply as the SAT. The psychologists who designed these tests in the early 20th century believed, incorrectly, that you inherited “intelligence” from your family and nothing you might do would change it. The chief virtue of these tests was that they were “standardized,” meaning that everyone took the same ones. The I.Q. test was applied to the screening of recruits for World War I, used to separate the men of high intellect — officer material — and from those of low intellect, who were sent to the front lines.
When the psychologists reviewed the test results, they concluded that white males of northern European origin had the highest I.Q., while non-English-speaking people and Black people had the lowest I.Q. They neglected the fact that northern Black people had higher I.Q. scores than Appalachian White people on the Army’s mental tests. Based on these tests, the psychologists believed, incorrectly, that race and I.Q. were bound together.


One of the psychologists who helped create the wartime I.Q. tests was Carl C. Brigham of Princeton University. He wrote an influential book, called “A Study of American Intelligence,” in 1923, which proclaimed that the “Nordic” race had the highest intelligence and that the increasing numbers of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were causing a decline in American intelligence.


His findings encouraged Congress to set quotas to limit the immigration of so-called “inferior” national groups from places like Russia, Poland and Italy. Brigham, a faculty member at Princeton, used his knowledge of I.Q. testing to develop the Scholastic Aptitude Test in 1926. Because they could be easily and cheaply scored by machine, the SAT tests eventually replaced the well-known “College Boards,” which were written examinations prepared and graded by teams of high school teachers and college professors.


Standardized testing occasionally made an appearance in American schools in the second half of the 20th century, but the tests were selected and used at the will of state and local school boards. The Scholastic Aptitude Test was important for college admission, especially for the relatively small number of elite colleges. Nonetheless, it was possible to attend an American public school from kindergarten through 12th grade without ever taking a standardized test of academic or mental ability.


This state of affairs began to change after the release of the Reagan administration’s “Nation at Risk” report in 1983. That report claimed that the nation’s public schools were mired in “a rising tide of mediocrity” because they were too easy. Politicians and education leaders became convinced that American education needed higher standards and needed tests to measure the performance of students on higher standards.


President George H.W. Bush convened a national summit of governors in 1989, which proclaimed six national goals for the year 2000 in education, including:


• By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in math and science.

• By the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competence over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history and geography.


Such goals implied measurement. They implied the introduction of widespread standardized testing.


In 1994, President Bill Clinton introduced his Goals 2000 program, which gave grants to every state to choose their own standards and tests.


In 2001, President George W. Bush put forward his No Child Left Behind legislation, which required every student in grades 3 to 8 to take a standardized test in reading and mathematics every year, as well as one test in high school. Test scores would be used to judge schools and eventually to punish those that failed to make progress toward having every student achieve competency on those tests. The NCLB law proclaimed that by 2014, virtually every student would achieve competency in reading and mathematics. The authors of NCLB knew the goal was impossible to achieve.


When Barack Obama became president, he selected Arne Duncan as secretary of education. The Obama administration embraced the NCLB regime. Its own program — Race to the Top — stiffened the sanctions of NCLB.


Not only would schools that did not get high enough test scores be punished, possibly closed or privatized for failing to meet utopian goals, but teachers would be individually singled out if the students in their classes did not get higher scores every year.
The Bush-Obama approach was recognized as the “bipartisan consensus” in education, built around annual testing, accountability for students, teachers, principals and schools, and competition among schools. Race to the Top encouraged states to authorize charter school legislation and to increase the number of privately managed charters, and to pass legislation that tied teachers’ evaluations to the test scores of their students.


Duncan also promoted the Common Core State Standards, which were underwritten by philanthropist Bill Gates; the U.S. Department of Education could not mandate the Common Core, but it required states to adopt “common national standards” if they wanted to be eligible to compete for a share of the $4.35 billion in federal funding that the department controlled as part of the recovery funds after the Great Recession of 2008-09.


The department was able to subsidize the development of two new national tests aligned to the Common Core, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). At the outset — in 2010 — almost every state signed up for one of the two testing consortia. PARCC had 24 state members; it is now down to two and the District of Columbia. SBAC started with 30 state members; it is down to 17.


Politicians and the general public assume that tests are good because they provide valuable information. They think that the tests are necessary for equity among racial and ethnic groups.


This is wrong.


The tests are a measure, not a remedy.


The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.


Thus, the teachers do not learn where the students need extra help or which lessons need to be reviewed.


All they receive is a score, so they learn where students ranked compared to one another and compared to students across the state and the nation.


This is of little value to teachers.


This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.


The tests are a boon for the testing corporation. For teachers and students, they are worthless.


Standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and education. The students from affluent families get the highest scores. Those from poor families get the lowest scores. This is the case on every standardized test, whether it is state, national, international, SAT, or ACT. Sometimes poor kids get high scores, and sometimes kids from wealthy families get low scores, but they are outliers. The standardized tests confer privilege on the already advantaged and stigmatize those who have the least. They are not and will never be, by their very nature, a means to advance equity.


In addition, standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. There will always be a bottom half and a top half. Achievement gaps will never close, because bell curves never close. That is their design. By contrast, anyone of legal age may get a driver’s license if they pass the required tests. Access to driver’s licenses are not based on a bell curve. If they were, about 35 to 40 percent of adults would never get a license to drive.


If you are a parent, you will learn nothing from your child’s test score. You don’t really care how he or she ranks compared to others of her age in the state or in another state. You want to know whether she is keeping up with her assignments, whether she participates in class, whether she understands the work, whether she is enthusiastic about school, how she gets along with her peers. The standardized tests won’t answer any of these questions.


So how can a parent find out what he or she wants to know? Ask your child’s teacher.


Who should write the tests? Teachers should write the tests, based on what they taught in class. They can get instant answers and know precisely what their students understood and what they did not understand. They can hold a conference with Johnny or Maria to go over what they missed in class and help them learn what they need to know.


But how will we know how we are doing as a city or a state or a nation? How will we know about achievement gaps and whether they are getting bigger or smaller?


All of that information is already available in the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), plus much more. Scores are disaggregated by state, gender, race, disability status, poverty status, English-language proficiency, and much more. About 20 cities have volunteered to be assessed, and they get the same information.


As we approach the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind — it is important to know this history and this context. No high-performing nation in the world tests every students in grades 3 to 8 every year.


We can say with certainty that the No Child Left Behind program failed to meet its purpose of leaving no child behind.


We can say with certainty that the Race to the Top program did not succeed at raising the nation’s test scores “to the top.”


We can say with certainty that the Every Student Succeeds Act did not achieve its purpose of assuring that every student would succeed.


For the past 10 years, despite (or perhaps because of) this deluge of intrusive federal programs, scores on the NAEP have been flat. The federal laws and programs have come and gone and have had no impact on test scores, which was their purpose.


It is time to think differently. It is time to relax the heavy hand of federal regulation and to recall the original purposes of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: to distribute funding to the neediest students and schools; to support the professional training of teachers; and to assure the civil rights of students.


The federal government should not mandate testing or tell schools how to “reform” themselves, because the federal government lacks the knowledge or know-how or experience to reform schools.


At this critical time, as we look beyond the terrible consequences of the pandemic, American schools face a severe teacher shortage. The federal government can help states raise funding to pay professional salaries to professional teachers. It can help pay for high-quality prekindergarten programs. It can underwrite the cost of meals for students and help pay for nurses in every school.


American education will improve when the federal government does what it does best and allows highly qualified teachers and well-resourced schools to do what they do best.


Louisiana has been firmly in the grip of “reformers” (i.e., believers in privatization, Teach for America, and high-stakes testing) for many years. The “reformers'” biggest coup was the complete demolition of public schools in New Orleans, in the years following the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Buoyed by funding from out-of-state billionaires, the proponents of disruption took control of the state board of education (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education). Apologists for privatization still point to New Orleans as their proof point of success, but the state has recently assigned grades of D or F to about half of its schools.

In January 2012, John White, one of the stars of the privatization industry, was selected by the state board as superintendent of the state. He served for eight years. During that time, Louisiana dropped to near the bottom of the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

After White resigned, the state board chose Cade Brumley, an experienced Louisiana educator who had held district superintendencies in the state

After reformers hyped the “success” of reform in the state for 15 years, Brumley recently revealed that reading scores had declined in the early grades.

A new report shows reading scores for Louisiana’s youngest students have plunged for three consecutive years, raising red flags over arguably the state’s top challenge for improving achievement in the classroom.

The issue is getting new attention after state leaders learned last week that reading levels for students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades have all steadily dropped.

More than half of students in all four grades are performing below grade level, a potential harbinger of major learning problems.

“Clearly what we are doing is not getting the results that our kids deserve,” state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Former state board member Leslie Jacobs, who was one of the most outspoken cheerleaders for the demolition of public schools in New Orleans, said that Louisiana needed to follow the Florida model. Florida gets high fourth-grade reading scores by gaming the system; it holds back third-graders who are not up to grade level. This artificially inflates the state’s scores on fourth-grade NAEP. By eighth grade, however, the Florida readings scores are mediocre; you can’t hold back the low-scoring readers forever.

Andrea Gabor has some good ideas about what the new Secretary of Education must do.

President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, will face a host of pandemic-related challenges that have disproportionately affected the nation’s neediest students. In addition to learning setbacks, the prolonged isolation has caused social and emotional trauma. 

The challenges will continue to mount once the Covid-19 crisis is over.

Government resources will be strained at all levels, and continued Republican control of the Senate would likely limit extra funding available for K-12 education. 

In the absence of significant support for state and local governments, beyond the money included in any year-end stimulus package, Cardona, who has been Connecticut’s education commissioner, will need to concentrate on closing funding inequities between poor and affluent school districts in order to avoid the kind of educational setbacks that followed the 2008 recession. 

Although recent data indicate that the learning losses this fall, compared with the same period last year, have not been as dire as predicted, those results likely mask high numbers of missing kids — children who lack technology for online learning or whose parents are unable to supervise their remote schooling. 

States and localities are responsible for the lion’s share of spending on public education; yet, as of 2015, only 11 states had funding formulas where high-poverty schools receive more funding per student than low-poverty schools, down from a high of 22 in 2008.

When states cut back on their share of aid during the Great Recession, school funding came to rely increasingly on local property tax revenue, benefiting districts with high property values and hurting those where the values are low. 

Though it may sound counterintuitive, an important first step the new administration can take to improve educational equity is to abandon the regimen of annual standardized tests that has dominated federal educational policy-making, especially under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. 

Under the best circumstances, standardized tests do little to measure actual achievement, let alone improve it; indeed, the relentless focus on English and math in every grade from third through eighth has shortchanged the teaching of science at the elementary level as well as civics. Given the difficulty of administering tests during a pandemic, any results obtained next spring are likely to be more flawed than ever.

Eliminating or sharply curtailing standardized tests would save states as much as $1.7 billion and allow districts to reallocate resources. For perspective, that is over 4% of the $39 billion the federal government spends on K-12 education, based on 2018 figures. 

Instead, districts could administer diagnostic tests developed by local educators that provide quick feedback for teachers. (The typically long lag time on standardized test results means teachers can’t easily tailor instruction to student needs.) Testing by the National Association of Educational Progress, which is considered the nation’s report card, provides “the ideal gauge” for measuring Covid-19’s impact on students and should not be canceled; NAEP provides state-by-state comparisons and takes demographic criteria like race, income and disability into account. 

Cardona should also see to it that the Education Department rewrites the eligibility rules for supplemental federal funds that are meant for the poorest schools. These so-called Title 1 funds constitute the largest share of federal education spending. One major flaw with the Title 1 formula is that under current rules, 20% of the money meant for poor students, or about $2.6 billion, ends up in districts with a higher proportion of wealthy families (partly because large, more affluent districts often have enough poor students to qualify for the aid). Changing the funding formulas could be politically difficult if it means taking money away from better-off districts — a problem that could be mitigated by stimulus funding now being debated in Congress. 

The new stimulus bill approved by Congress calls for about $54 billion in funding for K-12 schools. The Biden Education Department should ensure that it isn’t zeroed out for other uses by the states, as Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York did with $716.9 million in education benefits from federal stimulus aid last spring. Cuomo’s cuts shredded the part of the budget that provided extra funding to districts with comparatively low tax bases.

Instead, federal money should be used to reward states that promote funding equity, as well as local desegregation efforts — ideas Biden has endorsed. States that could benefit include California, which has a 10-year blueprint to expand early childhood programs and pre-K, and Arizona, where voters just approved a ballot measure to raise money for educator salaries by taxing the state’s highest earners.

Working with other government agencies, like Health and Human Services, and rewriting Title 1 rules could help tap additional funding for community schools, turning them into hubs that provide counseling, basic medical services and food. A recent study found that providing such “wraparound services” in New York City schools, for example, increased attendance and graduation rates, as well as some test scores. 

Similarly, by working with the Federal Communications Commission and advocating for changes in telecommunications tax policy, the Education Department could help improve the internet infrastructure in vast swaths of the country, urban and rural, where well over one-quarter of children live in households without web access. Poor internet service has proved an enormous educational liability during the pandemic. Government could raise $7 billion in additional revenue for improving broadband services if it reversed the prohibition on taxing existing internet services. 

Finally, Cardona’s department can offer states matching grants to shore up community colleges, which receive far less per-pupil funding than four-year colleges, yet serve as a stepping stone to the middle class for low-income students. This will be especially important during a post-pandemic downturn when community colleges are likely to face large cuts and would provide a much more targeted boost for poor students than a broad program of forgiving college loans. 

Just before the pandemic, at least a dozen states were still financing schools at well below pre-2008 levels; student test scores and graduation rates suffered as a result. The lessons from the 2008 recession, when high-poverty districts lost $1,500 in spending per pupil, three times the loss in affluent districts, suggest that unless both the Education Department and the states distribute money more equally, the damage to poor districts will be long-lasting.

The accountability hawks have decided that NAEP testing must be canceled this spring because of the pandemic, but the burdensome, useless, meaningless annual testing of every single student from grades 3-8 should not be disrupted. Betsy DeVos proposed canceling NAEP, and the director of the National Center for Education Statistics complied. There will be no NAEP 2021.

This is backwards.

If we want to understand the impact of the coronavirus on American students, NAEP testing should go forward. NAEP—the National Assessment of Educational Progress—has been administered to scientific samples of American students since the late 1960s. Since 1992, it has provided state-by-state comparisons. It disaggregates scores by race, gender, income, English language status, disability status, and other criteria. It measures achievement gaps among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. It supplies the same valuable information for a score of urban district that volunteer to be tested. No stakes are attached to NAEP results.

In short, NAEP is the ideal gauge for measuring the impact of the coronavirus on students in every state and many cities.

The tests that should be canceled are the state tests mandated by ESSA, which every student in grades 3-8 is required to take. Many students will opt out. The scores rank students on a meaningless axis from advanced, proficient, basic, to below basic, or rank them 1-4. The mandated tests tell teachers nothing worth knowing since they mainly reflect family income and education. They do not tell teachers anything about what students know and understand since teachers are not permitted to see the questions or to know how students answered them. The results of these tests, useless as they are, have high stakes. They will be used to punish or reward students, teachers, and schools.

Yet NAEP will be postponed, and the state tests for individuals will go forward this spring! The meaningful measure will be canceled but the punitive and meaningless measure will be preserved.

Politico reported:

HITTING PAUSE ON THE NATION’S REPORT CARD  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos before Thanksgiving added another item to Congress’ to-do list, calling on lawmakers to postpone upcoming national tests that gauge student achievement in reading and math. DeVos said it would be impractical to conduct the National Assessment of Educational Progress, originally slated for January, during the pandemic because “too few schools will be providing in-school instruction or welcoming outside test administrators this winter to ensure a sufficiently large sample.”

— DeVos said in a letter to congressional leaders that she was halting any further expenditures to prepare for the federal assessments. But she urged Congress to include legislation in any year-end government spending deal to “lift the mandate for 2021 NAEP administration and postpone the administration of NAEP tests until the assessment will be able to produce useful results, likely in 2022.”

— It appears that DeVos’ request has bipartisan support. The Democratic leaders on the congressional education committees, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), said in a joint statement that postponing NAEP was “unfortunate” but also “understandable” given the circumstances. And Sen. Lamar Alexander(R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate education committee, said DeVos made “the right decision” and that Congress should act quickly to provide the one-year delay. “I will work with my colleagues to secure congressional approval of this request in the remaining weeks of the year,” Alexander said.

If NAEP had been administered in 2021, it would have told policy makers precisely what they want to know, at a cost of about $50 million.

If the individual tests are administered, with large numbers of students absent due to the pandemic or opting out in protest, it will provide no useful results but cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Why would DeVos cancel the efficient measure while imposing the pointless measure?

For sure, it’s a win for the test producers but a loss for students, teachers, and common sense.

James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, regularly sends out news bulletins about education. His group might be thought of as the antithesis of the Broad Academy; they are educators with experience, not tyros looking to move up quickly with minimal experience. Harvey has wisely inveighed against the common perception of NAEP’s proficiency level, which advocates of the Common Core and the CC-aligned tests (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) treated as if it were “grade level.” It is not.

Harvey writes here about the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is often called “the nation’s report card.”

Here’s a good summary of what ails NAEP and how its results are reported
What’s the actual lesson to be learned from NAEP scores?According to Forbes contributor Peter Green (r), nothing much.
Green argues that despite the hope among many that NAEP data would help us to evaluate the effectiveness of different education policies, “In education, it’s fruitless to imagine that data will settle our issues.” He points out also that, “The three NAEP levels (basic, proficient, and advanced) do not necessarily mean what folks think they mean . . . NAEP’s ‘proficient’ is set considerably higher than grade level,” as noted on the NAEP site.


The Roundtable has taken strong exception to NAEP’s definition of proficiency. The Roundtable’s 2018 report, “How High the Bar?” concluded that not even 40% of fourth-graders in Finland and Singapore (nations typically thought to be world-class in terms of student achievement) can be deemed proficient in reading by the NAEP standard. The fact that uninformed policymakers and advocates conflate “proficiency” with grade-level performance is one of the absurdities of the current national conversation about schools.

Those of you who have followed this blog for many years know that I don’t put much stock in twelfth grade NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores. Having served for seven years on the NAEP governing board (the National Assessment Governing Board), I know that twelfth graders are a perennial problem. Unlike students in fourth and eighth grades, the seniors know the test doesn’t count. They are not motivated.

Bearing that in mind, it is nonetheless surprising that the recently released NAEP 12th grade reading and math scores have barely budged since 2005.

Even if kids aren’t trying hard, their scores should have gone up if they were actually better educated.

I argued in Slaying Goliath that NAEP scores for fourth and eighth grade have been flat for the past decade. And these kids are doing their best.

NAEP scores show the abject failure of “education reform” inflicted on students and educators since passage of No Child Left Behind. NCLB, Race to the Top, VAM, charter schools, vouchers, merit pay, Common Core: a massive failure.

It’s time to throw out the status quo. It’s time for a new vision. It’s time to respect educators and stop tying their hands and giving them scripts. It’s time to end the regime of test and publish.

Are you listening, Joe Biden?

The Wall Street Journal editorial board has three core beliefs about education.

1. Public schools are horrible.

2. Teachers’ unions are evil.

3. Non-unionized charters and vouchers are the remedy to all that ails American education.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The three highest performing states in the nation—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey—have strong teachers’ unions. None of the non-union states are at the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Unions fight for adequate resources and decent salaries for teachers, in addition to fighting for teachers’ right to fair treatment on the job. The resources help their students, and the job rights help retain career teachers.

Most recently the WSJ wrote a glowing editorial about the alleged success of vouchers in Florida, one of its favorite states because its governor and legislature have diverted $3 billion from public schools to non-union charters and vouchers. The editorialists are thrilled because Florida just recently expanded its voucher program.

Most vouchers in Florida are used in religious schools, most of which are evangelical Christian schools. The voucher schools are not required to take state tests. They are not required to be accountable in any way. They are not required to hire certified teachers or principals. The voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against gay students, staff, and families. They do not have to adopt the state standards and may use the Bible as their science textbook if they wish. The Orlando Sentinel wrote a revealing series about Florida’s voucher program, called “Schools Without Rules.”

Bear in mind that the size of a voucher—less than $8,000–guarantees that it will be accepted only by low-tuition schools, not by the schools of elite families, where tuition may be as high as $35,000-40,000 a year.

Here is the text of the WSJ editorial:

The headline is “Florida’s School Choice Blowout.”

The subtitle is: “The State Expands Its Successful K-12 Scholarship Program.”

Good news from Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed the biggest private school voucher expansion in U.S. history—giving families in Democratic, union-controlled states another reason to move to the Sunshine State.

Florida established the Family Empowerment Scholarship last year for low and middle-income families. The private school vouchers run between $6,775 and $7,250 per student depending on the grade level, and 87% of recipients come from households below 185% of the federal poverty level (about $48,470 for a family of four). Most are black or Hispanic.

Vouchers had been limited to 18,000 students this year with annual growth capped at about 7,000. This wasn’t enough to meet parental demand, and there are 35,000 eligible students on scholarship waiting lists. Republicans have now quadrupled the cap on annual growth so that 28,000 more students can benefit each year. If the voucher program’s capacity exceeds demand from eligible families, the new law will increase the household-income limit (currently 300% of the poverty line) by 25% so more middle-income families can apply. In short, supply of vouchers will now automatically expand to meet demand.

As a political trade, Mr. DeSantis gave public schools $500 million for salary increases—not that this appeased the teachers unions that oppose all school choice because it forces unionized public schools to compete for students. While voucher studies have shown mixed effects on academic performance, one reason is probably that giving parents more choice forces improvements at public schools. A National Bureau of Economic Research study this year found higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism among students, especially low-income ones, who attended Florida public schools in areas where more students had access to private-school choice.

Notably, fourth-graders in Washington, D.C., and Miami-Dade in Florida showed the most improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores among large urban school districts since 2011. Both Florida and Washington, D.C., offer robust private-school choice and have eliminated teacher tenure. By contrast, student scores in most districts including Houston, Philadelphia and Baltimore have been flat or declined.

Jeb Bush kicked off Florida’s school choice movement two decades ago, and Rick Scott (now Senator) and Mr. DeSantis have built on his success. More than 130,000 students in Florida now receive scholarships. Florida is helping to increase social mobility and future incomes by expanding educational opportunity for all.

Here are the facts:

Florida’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a sample test of reading and mathematics in grades 4 and 8 for the nation, states, and some urban districts, have been mostly flat over the past decade. The NAEP scores don’t include voucher schools, because they are not held accountable in any way. The WSJ asserts that Florida is a great “success” story, that its fourth graders showed dramatic improvement from 2011-2019, but that is false. Why leave out the eighth graders? Could it be because the eighth grade scores in both Florida and Miami were flat?

Here are the NAEP results for 2019 in reading.

Here are the NAEP results in mathematics for 2019.

You can look at average scores over time for every state and for urban districts that asked to be tested, including Miami-Dade.

You can compare 2019 to previous years. The WSJ chose to compare 2019 to 2011, but I chose to compare 2019 to 2009. It’s not impressive for Florida or Miami no matter which year you choose.

Let’s check the progress of Florida and Miami on NAEP (public schools only):

Fourth grade reading: Scores unchanged since 2009.

Eighth grade reading: Scores unchanged since 2009.

Fourth grade mathematics: Scores unchanged since 2011 (Remember that Florida retains low-scoring third graders, which tends to inflate fourth -grade scores).

Eighth grade math: Scores unchanged from 2009-2019.

Since the WSJ refers to NAEP as evidence of Florida’s amazing performance, it’s worth noting that Florida has flat-lined for the last decade on NAEP.

We don’t know anything about the “success” of vouchers in Florida, since their students don’t take state tests or NAEP.

But we do know that rigorous voucher studies in other states—Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, the District of Columbia—have shown that voucher students lose ground compared to their peers in public schools. (See here and here and here.)

Far from “expanding opportunity,” vouchers enable children to attend low-cost schools where they abandon their civil rights protections at the door, are instructed by uncertified teachers, and are likely to fall behind academically or return to their public school. One of the unexplored issues associated with voucher schools is their high attrition rates. When voucher boosters boast about their high school graduation rate, they fail to mention the number of kids who didn’t make it to senior year. Only the elitist Wall Street Journal would think of this as a boon for children and families.

The National Center for Education Statistics released NAEP scores in history and geography, which declined, and in civics, which were flat.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos went into her customary rant against public schools, but the real culprit is a failed federal policy of high-stakes testing narrowly focused on reading and math. If DeVos were able to produce data to demonstrate that scores on the same tests were rising for the same demographic groups in charter schools and voucher schools, she might be able to make an intelligent point, but all she has is her ideological hatred of public schools.

After nearly 20 years of federal policies of high-stakes testing, punitive accountability, and federal funding of school choice, the results are in. The “reforms” mandated by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Every Student Succeeds Act, as well as the federally-endorsed (Gates-funded) Common Core, have had no benefit for American students.

Enough!

When the ESSA comes up for reauthorization, it should be revised. The standardized testing mandate should be eliminated. The original name—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—should replace the fanciful and delusional title (NCLB, ESSA), since we now know that the promise of “no child left behind” was fake, as was the claim that “every student succeeds” by complying with federally mandated testing.

Restore also the original purpose of the act in 1965: EQUITY. That is, financial help for the schools that enroll the poorest children, so they can have small classes, experienced teachers, a full curriculum including the arts and recess, a school nurse, a library and librarian, a psychologist and social worker.

Here is the report from Politico Morning Education:

MANY STUDENTS ARE STRUGGLING’: Average scores for eighth-graders on the Nation’s Report Card declined in U.S. history and geography between 2014 and 2018 while scores in civics remained flat, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The results follow disappointing scores for math and reading released in October.

— “The results provided here indicate that many students are struggling to understand and explain the importance of civic participation, how American government functions, the historical significance of events, and the need to grasp and apply core geographic concepts,” stated Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner of assessment at NCES, which runs the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, known as The Nation’s Report Card.

— The digitally based assessments were administered from January to March 2018 to a nationally representative sample of eighth-graders from about 780 schools. The results are available at nationsreportcard.gov. They will be discussed at a livestreamed event, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

— Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a statement, said “America’s antiquated approach to education is creating a generation of future leaders who will not have a foundational understanding of what makes this country exceptional. We cannot continue to excuse this problem away. Instead, we need to fundamentally rethink education in America

Open the link to find links to the NAEP reports.

Many researchers were amazed to see that the state of Mississippi had a sharp growth in its fourth-grade reading scores.

Fortunately, the far-right Thomas B. Fordham Institute reveals how this happened.

The surest path to success in fourth-grade reading on NAEP is to hold back third-graders who did not pass the third-grade reading test. It works! It increased Florida’s fourth-grade reading scores. And it worked for Mississippi too! You have to give credit where it is due: Jeb Bush thought up this way to artificially inflate Florida’s NAEP standing. Research has consistently shown that kids who are held back are likelier to drop out of school later, but who cares about them? The scores and ratings are everything! Mississippi holds back a higher percentage of third-graders than any other state. How about those numbers!

One of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary 2019 NAEP report is Mississippi. A long-time cellar dweller in the NAEP rankings, Mississippi students have risen faster than anyone since 2013, particularly for fourth graders. In fourth grade reading results, Mississippi boosted its ranking from forty-ninth in 2013 to twenty-ninth in 2019; in math, they zoomed from fiftieth to twenty-third. Adjusted for demographics, Mississippi now ranks near the top in fourth grade reading and math according to the Urban Institute’s America’s Gradebook report.

So how have they done it? Education commentators have pointed to several possible causes: roll-out of early literacy programs and professional development (Cowen & Forte), faithful implementation of Common Core standards (Petrilli), and focus on the “science of reading” (State Superintendent Carey Wright).

But one key part of Mississippi’s formula has gotten less coverage: holding back low-performing students. In response to the legislature’s 2013 Literacy Based Promotion Act (LBPA), Mississippi schools retain a higher percentage of K–3 students than any other state. (Mississippi-based Bracey Harris of The Hechinger Report is one education writer who has reported on this topic.)

The LBPA created a “third grade gate,” making success on the reading exit exam a requirement for fourth grade promotion. This isn’t a new idea of course. Florida is widely credited with starting the trend in 2003, and now sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have a reading proficiency requirement to pass into fourth grade.

But Mississippi has taken the concept further than others, with a retention rate higher than any other state. In 2018–19, according to state department of education reports, 8 percent of all Mississippi K–3 students were held back (up from 6.6 percent the prior year). This implies that over the four grades, as many as 32 percent of all Mississippi students are held back; a more reasonable estimate is closer to 20 to 25 percent, allowing for some to be held back twice. (Mississippi’s Department of Education does not report how many students are retained more than once.)

Just goes to show: If at first you don’t succeed, fake it.

 

 

John Merrow writes here about the stagnant scores reported on NAEP, PISA, and every other measure. They are an indictment of the test-centric policies of Bush, Obama, and Trump, he says.

He writes:

Given the PISA results and the harsh truth that NAEP scores have been disappointing for many years, it’s time to rename NAEP. Let’s call it the National Assessment of Educational Paralysis, because paralysis accurately describes what has been going on for more than two decades of “School Reform” under the test-centric policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Unless and until we renounce these misguided “School Reform” policies developed under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, educational paralysis will continue, and millions of children will continue to be mis-educated and under-educated.

Right now, too many school districts over-test, which means their teachers under-teach. Too often their leaders impose curricula that restrict teachers’ ability to innovate.  At the same time, these narrow curricula have curtailed or eliminated art, music, physical education, recess, drama, and even science.  Today many districts judge teachers largely by student test scores, leading teachers to devote more and more class time to test-prep, not teaching and exploration of idea.  This is what I and others label the ‘test-and-punish’ approach to education, instead of a far more desirable ‘assess to improve’ philosophy.