Most state's standardized tests are virtually "toothless".
June 7, 2007
State School Standards Vary Widely in Study
By TAMAR LEWIN
New York Times
What students must learn to be deemed academically proficient varies drastically from state to state, the United States Department of Education said today in a report that, for the first time, showed the specific extent of the differences.
The report supports critics who say the political compromise of the federal No Child Left Behind law, President Bush’s signature education initiative, has led to a patchwork of educational inequities around the country, with no common yardstick to determine whether schoolchildren are learning enough.
The law requires that all students be brought to proficiency by 2014, but lets each state set its own proficiency standards and choose its own tests to measure achievement.
In essence, the report issued today creates a common yardstick of proficiency, by examining the minimum proficiency score on each state’s tests of reading and math and then determining what the equivalent score would be on the math and reading components of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The results illustrated starkly that some states’ standard for proficiency are much lower than others’.
The national test divides students’ scores into three achievement levels: basic, proficient and advanced. Mr. Whitehurst said the achievement level that many states call proficient is closer to what the national test rates as basic.
Many education experts criticize the law, saying it gives states an incentive to set its standards low so as to avoid the federal law’s sanctions on schools that do not increase the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency each year. Those experts argue that uniform national standards are needed.
“Parents and communities in too many states are being told not to worry, all is well, when their students are far behind,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation who served in the Education Department during Mr. Bush’s first term.
The survey report warned that these improvements might not be attributable to the federal law, but Ms. Spellings said the results showed that the law has “struck a chord of success.” Her department’s report today, though, raises doubts about just how much progress has really been made.
“This does cast a question over yesterday’s study,” Mr. Petrilli said. “Even if students are making progress on state tests, if tests are incredibly easy, that doesn’t mean much. We don’t need a national curriculum, but we certainly should have national standards for reading and math.”
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