“Proponents of national benchmarks seem to think that they’ll be the ones writing them,” notes Marcus A. Winters in No State Left Behind in City Journal.
Bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Education will have other ideas. So will congressmen from lower-achieving states, which won’t want to be embarrassed by a national proficiency standard that their students can’t reach. Since any system of setting a common standard—either by federal mandate or voluntary state agreement—depends on the cooperation of lousy performers like Georgia, it’s hard to see how a demanding national standard would survive the political process. Similarly, if the NAEP became an enforceable national benchmark, pressure would grow to make it easier.
Winters proposes amending No Child Left Behind to encourage states to set high standards backed by a challenging test.
Most experts in the testing community have presumed that the $350 million promised by the U.S. Department of Education to support common assessments would promote those that made greater use of open-ended items capable of measuring higher-order critical-thinking skills.
. . . The issues now on the table include the added expense of those items, as well as sensitive questions about who should be charged with the task of scoring them and whether they will prove reliable enough for high-stakes decisions.
To save the cost of human scorers and speed turnaround time, testing companies are experimenting with software that scores open-ended responses. Are we going to let high-stakes tests be scored by robots?