Sunday, November 13, 2005

Every State Left Behind

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


  1. I was absolutely convinced she was right when I read that. Someone wrote me mentioning the way high-stakes testing is replacing teaching, and I thought about how NY State is making me train my foreign students to pass a writing test rather than learn English.

    Now I'm not so sure.

    There's just no way around all this testing though. I send my kid to an after-school test-prep center because I can't really see as I have a choice.

  2. Hi, interesting blog. here in Europe unfortunately we don´t know so much about the Latin Community in the USA.
    Recently I started my own blog on globalization, education, smart business etc etc, one of the very first interview was that of Cem Oezdemir, German-Turkish member of the European parliament, who suggested that the Latin Community in America should be a model for our immigrants in Europe. So I would like to learn more about the "Latinos", perhaps you can visit my blog and post some comments in English or, why not, in Spanish.
    Thank You,

  3. I always have a good laugh when someone mentions the NAEP as the "gold standard" of school measurement. Perhaps they didn't catch this little tidbit in the NAEP report itself, based on a panel from the National Academy of Sciences and commissioned by Congress

    The Panel concluded 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."

    You can read it here