How to raise low state standards

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.

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  1. tim-10-ber says:

    Hmmmm…our state tests (TCAP) use to be normed. The complaints were the scores were bad because the test did not reflect the state curriculum. Well..duud!! It wasn’t intented, too!!! So the state reset the test and the curriculum. (Someone made money here.) Guess what? Our district still performs below the state even with incredibly low cut scores to get to proficient or advanced. Let’s see proficient does not mean mastery or grade level and advanced does not mean ahead of grade level. What did this get us? Just the prestige of being one of the worst public er government school systems in the country.

    NRT was very good. High standards and high scores that really mean grade level and above grade level on a national basis are good, too. Ya know I don’t believe we need national standards to do this.

    Why not take the top curriculums across the country and use their tests (MAs should be okay) and let the states and local government schools figure out what changes need to be made to the curriculum? Sure seems like an easier path than re-inventing the wheel. Oh yeah…oops more money to be made with national standards. I forgot. Oh yeah, the outcomes needs to be easily understood by the common person…er the parents of the students who are suppose to be the number one priority of government schools, right?

    There is just too much money to be made by the testing and textbook companies to do something so logical. I keep forgetting government er compulsory schools are all about the adults and never about the kids… Silly me…

  2. Cardinal Fang says:

    If we leave standards to the states, political interest groups will try to dumb them down. If we instead have federal standards, political interest groups will try to dumb them down. So the question is, in which venue will it be easier to resist the pressure to dumb down the standards? My intuition is, it’s easier for the non-dumbing-down side to exert pressure federally, so I come down in favor of federal standards.

  3. Charlie Barone says:

    There are some good points made here. But the representative sample ideas presents all sorts of problems. If one key purpose of data is to drive decision-making at the school and even classroom level – to see what’s working, what’s not, and which teachers need help or even need to be counseled out of the profession – representative samples are the wrong direction to go. And if you think there’s gaming now, who defines “representativeness” of a sample opens up a whole new world of shoddiness.

    BTW, NAEP is already administered just as Coulson describes. This – “The percentage of test-takers who met the proficiency benchmarks on each state’s exam would reveal precisely how difficult each assessment was” – is already done with NAEP, and in fact the D of Ed has a whole scale which re-assesses state standards in terms of their rigor (MA is high, states like TN are very low). The fact that few seem to know about it now illustrates the severe limitations of Coulson’s idea. NCLB required, for the first time, that all states participate in NAEP for this purpose. It surprises me that Coulson doesn’t know or acknowledge any of this.