Monday, April 06, 2009

Duncan: Want stimulus money? Cough up the data

As long time readers of this blog can guess, I'm not a huge fan of the federal stimulus bill. However, I am happy to learn that when it comes to education funding, the feds (led by education secretary Arne Duncan) have decided to ask for as much transparency and data collection as possible. The first checks seem to be coming regardless. But in order for states to get the second round, they're going to have to release certain numbers, according to this article in the New York Times. A key set? Local test scores and scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

This is a big victory for the accountability movement, and is also going to embarrass several states. When the No Child Left Behind act was passed several years ago, Washington required that the states test children annually and track school results to show adequate yearly progress. However, in a nod to federalism, states were left free to design their own tests.

Some states did the right thing and created challenging tests that actually matched what children should know at grade level. Others decided that hey, if all they had to show was progress on a test to be rewarded on a federal level, why not make the test as easy as possible?

The NAEP -- sometimes called "The Nation's Report Card" is far more challenging and gives a better sense of whether schools are doing their job. When some states wind up reporting that 89% of their 4th graders passed the state reading test, but only 18% were proficient on the NAEP (as Steven Colbert once joked about Mississippi), something will have to happen.

So what does this mean for gifted students? Unfortunately, for a lot of gifted students, testing days are pretty much wasted days. However, a completely dumbed down test is even more of a waste than a reasonably challenging one. And if states have to redesign their tests because of these new policies, at least that opens the door to creating tests that better gauge gifted students' abilities (i.e. ceiling-less tests that show the full bell curve of children's scores). Ideally, gifted children will be accelerated to grades where the grade level test actually is challenging. But this happens far fewer places then it should. In the meantime, more rigorous assessments create better schools -- which are, in the long term, better for everyone.


Nancy & Bill said...

In Kansas I think our test are actually pretty challenging. Unfortunately the individual skills of understanding the structure of a text, the author's purpose etc. does not seem to correlate with reading ability. Students who aren't able to read on grade level are able to learn the key words and score above standards on the test.

David Berg said...

I have some real issues with the implementation of standardized tests. My 4th grade son started a week of testing today. We recently found out from a different test that his current reading level is equivalent to a 12.6 (12th grade, 6th month). Surely his 4th grade evaluation isn't going to be able to reasonably track improvement in his reading skills since last year -- the 99th percentile last year and the 99th percentile this year sure doesn't leave much room for growth. Yet the same 4th grade test that everyone else in the district is taking will be the only standard by which progress is going to be judged.

Laura said...

Don't believe a word Arne Duncan says. Just ask the parent of a Chicago Public School student - - he accomplished nothing in our schools. All progress was made under Paul Vallas. Duncan wants schools to be accountable? Great - but who's going to be accountable for his failures here?

J. said...

I'll second that, Laura. Susan Ohanian calls Duncan Margaret Spelling in drag.

He's coming to speak at my daughter's school. I'd like to ask him why our students must take the state standardized tests as she attends a highly selective magnet school for the gifted. Why waste their time? The short answer is, the government makes us do it. The long answer is, so what?

J. said...

Spellings, meant to write. My bad, typo. I know how to spell (couldn't resist)!