Tag Archives: achievement gap


High-Stakes Testing: Learning Improvement Tool or Corporate Boondoggle?

I have spent a little time today looking at the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) over the past several years. The NAEP is often referred to as the gold standard in testing and provides a longitudinal, consistent database of student achievement. Meanwhile, through the No Child Left Behind Act, the public has been sold on the idea that a regimen of high-stakes tests accompanied with punitive measures directed at teachers and schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress on these tests will produce growth in achievement and will close the so-called achievement gap. We are now more than 10 years into the experiment on our children and the results are coming in.

Here is what my investigation of Washington State NAEP trends found. In the period from the mid-90s to 2003, about when NCLB kicked in, scores in both reading and math increased appreciably. From that point forward through 2011, the same period where we were busy cramming our kids for high-stakes tests, the NAEP results have been virtually flat in both reading and math in both of the grades tested, 4 and 8. You can check the results for your own state at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/statemapping/, but a quick check showed the results for Washington to be consistent with most states across the nation.

So what gives? We have invested billions in high-stakes tests that were supposed to improve achievement but which have, in fact, stalled the growth that was being achieved prior to their implementation. Now we are being pressed to add even more testing under the guise of the Common Core State Standards. Someone once said, when you realize you are in a hole, it is time to stop digging. That time is now for high-stakes testing. It hasn’t worked in the failed 10-year experiment on our kids and it is not going to work by doing it harder at an even greater cost.

Join thousands of parents and teachers who say enough is too much. Sign the letter to Obama at http://dumpduncan.org/


Flabby to the ‘Core’

I have been concerned about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) since the idea was announced.  The “State” in State Standards is a ruse.  These are national standards developed by some “blue ribbon” panel of experts (No teachers were included) in some far off, unnamed office.  Pearson, the testing giant, was involved of course.  Then every state was coerced into adopting the standards by withholding Federal funds for non-compliance.  A few states resisted, but Washington was not one of them.


In addition to my mistrust of standards developed by someone far away from my town and grandchildren, the “standards” approach to education has not worked after more than 10 years of trying.  In Washington it is more like 15 years.  National Assessment test scores have remained flat for the entire time and the achievement gap, which was closing during the 1990′s has been stuck at its early 2000 level ever since.  Let’s face it folks, standards and high-stakes testing do not work and have sucked billions of dollars out of instruction and moved it into the pockets of the big test companies.


And now CCSS has arrived and is being implemented.  Guess what?  Pearson and other test publishers are now in the curriculum business and have developed “certified” curriculum which will need to be purchased by every school in the nation in order to teach to the new standards.  And it is great stuff, folks.  Here is a Boston Herald editorial on the topic:

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Corporate Reformers will not Create Excellent Schools

Guest post by Erik Peterson

  • Increase competitiveness.
  • Focus on maximizing short-term output over long-term investment.
  • Layoff workers.
  • Squeeze more productivity from the remaining beleaguered workforce.
  • Demonize unions that oppose the changes.
  • And when the enterprise collapses, shut it down and outsource the work.

Sound familiar?

This is not just the recipe for the current global financial crisis and economic meltdown. It is the same corporate model that is driving much of what passes for education reform these days.

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Retired Educator Speaks Out on Reform

Tom Staly, retired Kennewick teacher, was a part of the recent Tri-City Herald Community Conversation on school reform. His comments were published in the November 21 issue of the Herald and are reprinted here with permission of the paper.

Educate the ‘whole child’
By Tom Staly, Community Conversation

The current round of reform of the public schools began more than a quarter century ago with the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk. This historical report claimed the public schools were failing, placing our economy at risk against global competition. Despite continued domination of the world economy and careful studies documenting the fallacies of Nation at Risk, the myth of poor public schools has persisted.

Reform efforts to increase student achievement during the 1980s and 1990s with an emphasis on thinking skills and enriched curriculum actually reduced the achievement gap between rich and poor students. Unfortunately, the movement was hijacked around 2000 with passage of No Child Left Behind and the resulting standards/testing initiative. This intrusion into local public schools by the Federal Government has resulted in a narrowed curriculum emphasizing fill-in-the-bubble tests. The achievement gap remains stuck at pre-2000 levels, graduation rates have dropped, and schools have become test-prep factories.
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The Black-White Achievement Gap Revisited

The evidence continues to mount regarding the atrocities that have been foisted on the children of America in the name of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Researchers at Boston College studied trends in student achievement for ten states during the period 2000-2007, the period following introduction of NCLB and reported their results in “The Black-White Achievement Gap Revisited.”  Our leaders continue to ignore the findings of studies such as this one and push our schools to narrow the curriculum in a mindless race to nowhere. Read the abstract of the study here.


Putting Our Brains on Hold

We came across an article in the NY Times that may be of interest to our readers. It is now well documented that the “reform” efforts of the past twenty-plus years have failed to produce the effects they were supposed to: decrease the achievement gap for low income minority children, increase the literacy rate, lower the dropout rate, etc. Now comes news that an insidious side effect, lowering of the college graduation rate and thereby reducing the leadership pool of the nation, has taken hold. Read the Times article here.


20 Years Downhill

Kennewick, along with most cities and towns in the country, has relied on standardized testing as a way to improve achievement for the past twenty years despite the arguments of assessment experts (they designed the tests) who said they were not appropriate for this purpose and instruction experts (they know what needs to be taught), who argued for whole child solutions.  Kennewick School District has claimed vast improvement over the time period although the results don’t show up in higher graduation rates, greater college admissions, or any other measure than the same standardized tests at some grades, but not others.

New research reported elsewhere on this blog shows the drill and test strategy has not worked on a nation-wide basis and now a new report adds additional data detailing the failed strategy.  The achievement gap on the NAEP declined from 1970 to 1990, but has remained stagnant during the 20 years of “standards” and testing we have just survived.  You can read the Washington Post article describing the report here (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/equity/the-achievement-gap-when-progr.html).  The article contains a link to the actual report for the aficionados among us.

Do you believe your children should continue to be subjected to a teaching strategy that is clearly not working as well as what we were doing 20 years ago?  As the report shows, the achievement gap was narrowing until precisely the point in time where Kennewick (and most of the nation) began emphasizing test scores as a means to improving achievement.  Who has benefited from this emphasis?  It was not your kids.  But the big testing companies like Pearson (WASL) and NWEA (MAP) have raked in millions, oops, billions, at the expense of these kids.  Isn’t it time to just say NO to your local school board and legislators?  We provide contact information in the panel at the right of our home page.


“A Nation at Risk” Twenty-Five Years Later


Richard Rothstein has written an essay for Cato Unbound debunking the 1983 Nation at Risk report that has driven the so-called education reform efforts of the last 25-plus years. Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute. From 1999 to 2002 he was the national education columnist of The New York Times. He is the author of Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right (Teachers College Press and EPI, 2008) and Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Teachers College Press 2004). With his extensive background in education policy analysis, Rothstein is an important voice in the current debate regarding the re-authorization of NCLB.

This article, written two years ago, should be “must reading” for school board members, legislators and school administrators.  It clearly points out the futility of the current reform efforts that narrow the curriculum to improve reading and math scores at the expense of the whole child.  It further points out the error of suggested ties of such scores to the economic well being of the U.S.

Here are the first two paragraphs to set the tone. Rothstein follows with clear evidence to support each of his three contentions.

“In 1983, A Nation at Risk misidentified what is wrong with our public schools and consequently set the nation on a school reform crusade that has done more harm than good.”

“The diagnosis of the National Commission on Excellence in Education was flawed in three respects: First, it wrongly concluded that student achievement was declining. Second, it placed the blame on schools for national economic problems over which schools have relatively little influence. Third, it ignored the responsibility of the nation’s other social and economic institutions for learning.”

Here is a link to the essay: