A couple of weeks ago, the news offered the results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest national reading and math exam. The statistics showed that test scores in those areas had shown little improvement over past two years, despite the constant drumbeat of No Child Left Behind.
But according to the standardized testing programs in many states, which under NCLB must be blessed by the federal government, kids in those areas are doing just great.
Take Florida, where 30 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading on this federal test in 2005. Yet on the Florida state test, 71 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading in 2005. It’s a big difference: Are nearly three-quarters of your fourth graders proficient? Or less than a third? And it’s typical.
On the 2005 federal test, 33 percent of New York’s fourth graders were proficient in reading; on New York’s 2005 state test, 70 percent were. In Tennessee, 27 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading on the federal test; 87.9 percent on the state test.
Some of us might look at this big discrepancy and think something’s wrong with at least one of the testing programs. But not the wise folks at the Department of Education.
Federal officials don’t see it that way. "To us, more information is better," said Tom Luce, an assistant secretary in the federal Department of Education. "People say, ‘Well, it’s confusing.’ But I think the American people can deal with two different pieces of information at once."
Mr. Luce said that when residents in states like New York, Tennessee and Florida see such big discrepancies, "they’re going to ask questions."
He added, "That’s why the NAEP test is there, to shed light."
And that’s why DoE assistant secretaries are there: to spread crap.
More information IS better but only if you have valid data to start with. In this case, even the most optimistic analysis should tell you something’s wrong with at least one set of results. I doubt the average parent understands these two different pieces of information well enough to ask the right questions.
There are plenty of experts in the field of education who will come up with wonderful statistical explanations for the huge differences in test results. I’m certainly not one of them, so I have a very simple reason.
The state tests mandated by NCLB each spring are an immediate threat hanging over the schools. As a result, teachers teach to that test, not NAEP.
Of course, that still leaves the open question of whether any of these standardized tests measure genuine learning. You know. The stuff kids will actually need to succeed in the real world where multiple choice assessments don’t exist.