The Washington Post (WP) reported today on the new study of state achievement tests published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. According to WP, the study:
offers evidence that the No Child Left Behind law's core mission -- to push all students to score well in reading and math -- is undermined by wide variations in how states define a passing score.
The study's aim was to investigate three research questions related to the NCLB policy calling for all students' proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2014, and expecting each state to define that "proficiency."
  1. How consistent are various states' expectations for proficiency in reading and mathematics?
  2. Is there evidence that states' expectations for proficiency have changed since NCLB's enactment?
  3. How closely are proficiency standards calibrated across grades?
The researchers found that "improvements in passing rates on state tests can largely be explained by declines in the difficulty of those tests."

According to the study, "State tests vary greatly in their difficulty." Thus a student could pass in, say, Michigan where the proficiency passing score is among the lowest in the country, and test lower than five-sixths of the same-grade students in the rest of the country.
What [parents and teachers] don't know is that "proficient" doesn't mean much. This is the proficiency illusion.

The Proficiency Illusion
(October 2007, 238pp/pdf, 2.1MB)

In a Nutshell, a summary

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

NCLB is, at best, a questionable set of laws. Some experts and civil rights activists say it actually indirectly encourages children to join the military. And many educators think that it unfairly targets minority and urban school districts, requiring stricter guidelines and results of them.
Eric Bryant, President
Gnosis Arts

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might find a brief reaction to "The Proficiency Illusion" interesting. It's at http://www.bdsphd.zoomshare.com/

Anonymous Tom Hanson said...

I found the most interesting aspect of the entire discussion the comments of Michael Petrelli, the VP for policy at Fordham, regarding math scores. Even though math tests are harder. the scores are improving. And that comes as no surprise to Petrelli. See


Tom Hanson


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