Why the "Every Child Achieves Act" Needs a Little More Tweaking

Marianne Lombardo at Education Reform Now looks at the recent report on NAEP scores from the National Center for Education Statistics. Results show that many states have standards that are less ambitious than the concepts tested, especially in 4th grade reading.  While, she says, “NAEP frameworks and benchmarks are established by the National Assessment Governing Board and are based on the collaborative input of a wide range of experts and participants in the United States government, education, business, and public sectors,” states set their own standards when creating course objectives.

These standards range across a spectrum from “Basic” to “Proficient.” Remember, most, if not all, of the data derives from pre-Common Core days. So, for instance, while New York State consistently sets its standards on the high end of proficient for all areas – 4th grade reading and math; 8th grade reading and math – “most states set standards equivalent to the “Basic” range in the national assessment. “

For example,  only 21 states set their standards at “Proficient “ for fourth grade reading while the rest of the states lower expectations to “Basic.” New Jersey sets all its standards at “Basic” and is no outlier in that regard. The three most ambitious states are N.Y., Wisconsin, and North Carolina. States tend to get more ambitious in 4th grade math, where ten states  (but not N.J.) set standards at “Proficient.”

Part of the Common Core initiative was to urge each state to hold its students to higher proficiency levels. Now we’re dealing with the backlash, which stems, certainly, from a sense of federal overreach through NCLB-exhaustion but also from deep wells of denial. If we objectively measure student growth on common standards and assessments, then we’re faced with a reality that we've been  veiling lack of proficiency through fragmented and ultimately incomparable data. (That's why everyone is so freaked out about getting back first results from PARCC and Smarter Balanced.)

We’ve had an inelegant display of  this fear of reality during the last two weeks of Congressional debate over reauthorization of ESEA. On one side there’s the “let us set our own damn standards and assessments” group, championed by unionists, state rightists, and anti-reformers. On the other there’s the “let’s have a little oversight, please,” group, primarily comprising the  nation’s major civil rights groups, those who know too well the damage done to children’s educational trajectories without uniformly high expectations and the teeth of mandated intervention.

Lombardo continues,
Gary Phillips, of American Institute for Research, statistically linked state NAEP scores to TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) scores and found that states with higher standards tend to score higher on international assessments. Data from 2007 found: 
By combining these two sets of results, we know that even the best-performing American states do not score nearly as high as Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) or Korea, that the average-performing American states are about on par with England, the Russian Federation, and Lithuania, and that the District of Columbia’s performance is more comparable to those of Thailand and Turkey.
We know this already, right? Our standards are too low, our students are too slow, and our children’s global competitiveness is slip-sliding-away. (What was Anne Hyslop’s piece? “Fifty Ways in Which the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act Discussion Draft Limits Federal Oversight of State Implementation.” Guess I’m in a Paul Simon mood. Slow down, Congress, you move too fast.)

But damn the torpedoes and forswear accountability, at least if President Obama signs off on this latest draft of  the Every Child Achieves Act. Based on his heartful and mindful display of social justice and moral compass during the last month, the President may demand a little more heart, mind, and justice than Congress has yet to give him.

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