Gaming the system

To look as though they’re meeting No Child Left Behind goals, states are lowering standards, concludes a study of 12 states by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Instead of educating more students to proficiency, states define proficiency down.

In California, for example, state officials in 2005 estimated 50 percent of fourth-graders were proficient or better in math on the California Standards Tests, compared with 29 percent on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP.

California officials say NAEP isn’t aligned to California’s standards.

But U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who helped champion the bipartisan No Child Left Behind legislation, considers the PACE study comparison valid and likened the discrepancies to law school graduates boasting they passed all their tests even though they failed the state bar examination.

. . . “There are a lot of people who can’t break the habit of gaming the system,” he said of states in general. “They want to appear they are doing right by the children, and the fact is, they’re not. NCLB shines the light, and that’s why there’s so much resistance. It shines the light on a lot of practices where districts and states were conning the parents about the quality of education the children were getting.”

Meanwhile Jonathan Kozol is trying to mobilize a 1960s-style movement to trash No Child Left Behind, reports Education Gadfly. I guess they’re defending the right to be conned about how poorly low-income and minority students are doing in school. Checker Finn writes:

(Kozol is) joining–even seeking to lead–the anti-NCLB backlash among educators, all the while waving his familiar flag of racism and injustice, yet refusing to offer any plausible alternatives for fixing our failing urban schools.

If he has his way, those inner city kids will stay ignorant forever–and he can keep penning outraged (but best-selling) books about their mistreatment at society’s hands. Where’s the real injustice in this picture?

What he said.

About Joanne


  1. There’s no evidence that NAEP’s “proficient” standard has any validity at all. Its decision to start categorizing results was and is highly controversial, and has been severely criticized by a number of different government reviews.

    I’m sure states are gaming the system as well, but NAEP shouldn’t be considered a gold standard.

  2. bresslyn says:

    Cal — One of the things I struggle with is knowing how good or bad any one state’s standards are. If NAEP is not valid, how does one know if their state’s standards are weak or strong. The inability to check leads me to believe they are all weak. I really want to know if my state’s standards are as good or better than the next state’s. This is impossible. All I can do is see how my school compares to others in my state. That doesn’t make any sense. What state sets the bar the highest for the kids? How well are they doing? Why have our tests gone from NRT to CRT? Oh yeah, because each state has different standards. It use to be nice to know how my student did compared to his “national” peers. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    One of the problems with the monopoly of education is there is no ability to compare how well students are doing expect within one’s own state. Only when the students get to high school can compare ACT and SAT scores on a national level. Where are the “best practices” that are used in so many other industries? Where is the competition that always keeps the seller on their toes to do their absolute best and retain the client (the parents)? Neither of these are anywhere to be found. Therefore the lack of true innovation and consistent improvement…

    THanks —

  3. The national testing aspect of NCLB is fine and perhaps necessary. Parents have the right to know how well their students are doing, and how well the school itself is performing.


    I just finished a year of teaching in which I had a sizeable percentage (approaching 25%) of students not even try to be successful. I had ten students who literally did not turn in a single classwork or homework assignment the whole year. Nothing worked with these students, and the parents either threw up their hands, or didn’t care. (My principal is not helping, he has proclaimed that he will never retain a student in grade) My school was punished by having those students’ scores averaged into its grade.

    The main problem with NCLB is its unrealistic expectations and numerical goals. So far by hardwork and dedication my school has managed to keep pace with these goals. However in the next several years these goals ramp up alarmingly, and I see no chance of us meeting these goals.

  4. “(My principal is not helping, he has proclaimed that he will never retain a student in grade) My school was punished by having those students’ scores averaged into its grade.”

    Perhaps this punishment will encourage your principal to start helping with the completely unmotivated kids.

    It is good to hear that your school has been improving its teaching for the last few years.

  5. Andy Freeman says:

    > My school was punished by having those students’ scores averaged into its grade.

    Your school took money for educating those kids.

    We have three alternatives.
    (1) Don’t grade schools on how well they do.
    (2) Grade schools on how well they do “on average”.
    (3) Tie spending to results on individual students.

    Public education advocates oppose (3). (1) is clearly dumb. That leaves (2).