This piece by Diane Ravitch titled, "Every State Left Behind" is getting a lot of attention. Her central point is the following: The current President Bush, with a friendly Congress in hand, did not pursue that goal because it is contrary to the Republican Party philosophy of localism. Instead he adopted a strategy of "50 states, 50 standards, 50 tests" - and the evidence is growing that this approach has not improved student achievement. Americans must recognize that we need national standards, national tests and a national curriculum.
Arguing that the NAEP tests are the "gold standard," discrepancies are found in the scores on this test as compared to those produced by the states themselves. She cites, for example, Texas' reported 83% passing rate in contrast to its 26% passing rate on the NAEP's eighth-grade "proficiency" level in reading. She regards this and other discrepanices across the states as reflecting "grade inflation."
What her analysis fails to take into account is the dumbing down of the testing system itself that works primarily through its high-stakes testing focus. She also thinks that we need to get the politics (at the state level) out of this by relying not on state tests but rather on national standards, national tests, and national curriculum in order to reliably meet the gold standard.
Readers need to discern all of this in light of their own experiences with high-stakes testing and also to consider Elaine Garan's cogent criticism of the federal law's untenable assumptions (read recent post of her argument). These are worth reiterating here:
(1) Teachers and schools are responsible for 100 percent of student learning, regardless of individual differences in children's cognitive abilities or their emotional problems;
(2) the standardized tests that determine a school's passing or "needs improvement" status are 100 percent
valid as indicators of student learning and of school and teacher performance; and
(3) the goals of the law are about closing achievement gaps and improving public education.
Regarding her latter point, less discussed though of significant import is the culturally and linguistically homogenizing effects of both state and federal policies. This is a central point in my edited volume, LEAVING CHILDREN BEHIND. For culturally and linguistically diverse students, such assimilationist policies might improve test scores in the short run (though they often do not) but in the long run are quite devastating. -Angela