There’s a growing consensus
that our state testing program is due for a major overhaul.
But ideas on how to fix it vary widely. Last week, the Blue
Ribbon Commission on Testing and Accountability (formed in
May by the State Board of Education) circulated draft
proposals for change. Curbing
the number of tests topped the list: writing and computer
skills tests could get the boot if the commission has its way.
The commission’s final report is due in January, so stay
In the interim, new educational data may incite
more calls for testing reform, particularly given the ongoing
(and glaring) mismatch between national and state numbers. On
November 15th, the National
Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released results
Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). The 2007 TUDA
reported on the math and reading performance of fourth and
eighth graders in 11 urban school districts (including the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System, CMS) on the National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
students fared well
compared to their peers in urban districts around the country,
but they’re still a long way from making the grade. In reading,
just 35 percent of CMS fourth graders and 29 percent of eighth
graders were proficient or above on NAEP. In math,
44 percent of fourth graders and 33 percent of eighth graders
performed at or above the proficient level.
this relate to the issue of testing reform? Consider that the
card released this fall tells a far different story about
CMS performance, lending credence to Mark Twain’s oft-cited
assertion that “statistics are more pliable” than facts.
According to data from 2007 state tests, 85 percent of CMS
fourth and eighth graders were at or above grade level in
reading; 68 percent of fourth graders and 63 percent of eighth
graders scored at or above grade level on state math tests.
Unfortunately, such gaping discrepancies
between state tests and NAEP are nothing
new. Still, lawmakers have yet to push through a testing
program that accurately assesses student performance.
Instead of tightening testing rigor, the emerging
trend – reflected in the Blue Ribbon Commission’s preliminary
recommendations and also in national policy decisions – seems
to be that less is more, at least when it comes to testing
feedback. The NCES recently made the decision to withdraw
American students from the international Trends
in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), due to “scarce
resources.” So we’ll get a temporary reprieve from
international embarrassment (the last time American 12th
graders took the test, they came in 19th out of 21 countries).
But our unenlightened state will eventually show us up as we
fail to keep pace in the global economy.
the only test on the chopping block. At their recent quarterly
meeting, officials with the National
Assessment Governing Board (the agency that sets policy
for NAEP) warned funding shortfalls portend fewer
NAEP tests. Exams in economics, foreign language,
geography, and world history will likely be the first to go.
Long-term trend tests in reading and math may take a break in
2012 for the first time in more than 40 years. Officials
claimed the familiar refrain of insufficient funds as their
rationale – a shocker given our hundreds of billions of
dollars on annual K-12 education expenditures.
the solution to our testing dilemma? Jettisoning valuable
national and international assessments isn’t the answer.
Simply cutting back on the number of exams at the state level
won’t help us either – we’ll still have bad tests, albeit in
shorter supply. Instead, we ought to trade our plethora of
faulty state assessments for an independent, nationally normed
achievement test. Such a move would enable us to trim state
testing excesses and gain genuine accountability in the core
subjects. Whether commissioners agree or not, that’s a blue
ribbon proposal for reform.
Kristen Blair is a fellow at the North Carolina Education Alliance.