Congress has several concerns as it moves toward reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Whatever else they do, lawmakers need to strengthen the requirement that states document student performance in yearly tests in exchange for federal aid.
The states have made a mockery of that provision, using weak tests, setting passing scores low or rewriting tests from year to year, making it impossible to compare progress — or its absence — over time.
The country will have difficulty moving ahead educationally until that changes.
Most states that report strong performances on their own tests do poorly on the more rigorous and respected National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is often referred to as NAEP and is also known as the nation’s report card. That test is periodically given to a sample of students in designated grades in both public and private schools. States are resisting the idea of replacing their own tests with the NAEP, arguing that the national test is not aligned to state standards. But the problem is that state standards are generally weak, especially in math and science.
In discussing how some states game their student test results, you state, “The federal government could actually embarrass the laggard states by naming the ones that cling to weak tests.” The evidence on these states has been available for some time.
In 2005, Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math and found 87 percent of students performed at or above the proficiency level, while the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, test indicated only 21 percent of Tennessee’s eighth graders proficient in math.
In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on the state reading test, while only 18 percent demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. In Alabama, 83 percent of fourth-grade students scored at or above proficient on the state’s reading test, while only 22 percent were proficient on the NAEP test.
Other states were also found guilty in their determinations of proficient when compared with the federal NAEP test.
The No Child Left Behind Act will never be able to realize its potential as long as entire states are left behind because of the duplicitous efforts of their state officials. If Congress adopted national standards with a corresponding set of national exams in its reauthorization of the law, it could effectively minimize or eliminate these individual state shenanigans.
Marshfield, Mass., Aug.
Locally, the Madison School District’s Value Added Assessment Program is based on the State Department of Instruction’s Standards.