No Child Left Behind encourages states to set low standards: In some states you don’t have to be literate or numerate to be “proficient.” That’s pushed many reformers — and the Obama administration — to back national standards. But there will be intense political pressure to keep national standards low, warns Marcus Winters. He suggests a way to stick with state standards while encouraging states to ask more.
First, NCLB would be revised to take account of “students’ yearly academic gains.” States would have to show students are improving, even if they already hit low proficiency targets. Second, state tests would be normed.
So every few years, the federal government would administer each state’s test to a small but nationally representative sample of students. The percentage of test-takers who met the proficiency benchmarks on each state’s exam would reveal precisely how difficult each assessment was.
A revised NCLB law might then link some percentage of the per-pupil federal funding a state receives to this measure of its standard’s relative difficulty.
. . . In contrast to a politically vulnerable national standard, or one that relies on states’ continuing goodwill, an objective measure of difficulty, coupled with a financial incentive to set standards higher than the next state, should make such a scheme self-sustaining.
Clever, responds Andrew Coulson, but beware of a race to the trivial as states find ways to game the tests.
Recalling the disastrous attempt to craft national standards in the ’90s, Liam Julian also prefers to improve state standards rather than go for uniformity. He writes in The Weekly Standard:
. . . the very factors that contribute to the shoddiness of so many state standards are compounded at the national level, where every interest group from the textbook manufacturers to the national teachers’ unions to the Springfield Elementary School Herodotus Society will want to have its say.
There’s already a lot of controversy about the governors’ common core standards with many groups complaining they’ve been left out of the process.