Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1231testing-ON.html
Feds states disagree over how to measure student
New York Times News Service
Dec. 31, 2003 06:15 PM
The community around South Charlotte Middle School is one of the richest in
North Carolina, and the school boasts the kind of test scores that seem to go
hand in hand with wealth. Last year, more than 95 percent of its students passed
both the state reading and mathematics tests.
A few miles away in a
similarly wealthy community, the students at Fort Mill Middle School cannot make
the same claim. More than half failed the state mathematics test, and
three-quarters failed the reading test.
The difference? Fort Mill Middle School is in South Carolina.
Two recent studies show that such anomalies are widespread, as states have set
widely different standards for measuring students' progress under the federal
education law known as No Child Left Behind. Three-quarters of children across
the country would fail South Carolina's tough fifth-grade test, one study shows,
while seven out of eight would ace the third-grade tests in Colorado and Texas.
The two studies, one by a nonprofit Oregon testing company and the other by a
Washington public interest group, take different routes to reach a similar
conclusion: Across the country, there is no agreement on how much students need
to know to be considered proficient.
"It means parents and students are getting very different signals about what it
means to be well educated, what it means to be prepared when you leave school,"
said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., a nonprofit school reform group
in Washington that released a study of state standards in November.
The divergent standards also have ramifications under the federal education law,
passed in 2001. Schools deemed failures eventually face stern consequences,
including loss of students and reorganization. And in some states with high
standards there could be lots of failing schools. In other states with low
standards, schools with equally poor performance could be left alone.
The studies come as states begin to chafe at the demands and inconsistencies of
the education law. Last month, Public Agenda, a nonprofit public opinion
research group, released results of a survey that said school principals and
superintendents were deeply suspicious of the law and that most think it will
not work without changes.
Some experts agree.
"If it's not changed, it will collapse of its own weight," said Robert L. Linn,
co-director of the Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student
Testing at the University of Colorado. "I think a lot of people already realize
that, but they're waiting for a politically viable time to make the
Officials at the U. S. Department of Education disagreed. "The states are free
to set their own standards to meet the needs of children in their states," said
Ron Tomalis, acting assistant secretary in the Office of Elementary and
Secondary Education. "Communities may say we want to have higher standards.
Communities may say we've set it way too high, we may want to set it down lower
toward the norm."
The Northwest Evaluation study was based on scores of students in 14 states who
took both the state proficiency test and one of the organization's tests.
Colorado's reading test was consistently the least demanding in most grades in
which it was given, with a passing score that corresponded to a national ranking
between the 9th and 18th percentile. South Carolina and Wyoming had passing
scores in the 70th percentile and higher in most grades.
The study by Achieve Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes high education
standards, compared the number of students the states had declared proficient
under their No Child Left Behind testing structure with the number at the
"proficient" level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test
given in all 50 states. It showed Louisiana, South Carolina and Wyoming setting
some of the highest standards, with Texas, North Carolina and Mississippi
setting some of the lowest.
Texas, whose students' apparent progress on a state test in the 1990s helped
pave the way for No Child Left Behind, was near the bottom in both studies, even
though it started using what it said was a more difficult test last year.
In South Carolina, more than 75 percent of the state's schools failed to make
the progress required by the federal education law this year, far more than the
3 percent Alabama reported, or the 8 percent reported by Texas. One of them was
Fort Mill Middle School.
Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina's superintendent of education, said, "We don't
want to lower our standards," and added, "We think everyone ought to have as
high a standard as we do." But, she said, "There ought to be some national
clearinghouse so we can have a comparative measure."