Thursday, November 6, 2008

City/State/National Test Scores May Decline- Here's Why

Across the nation, far more schools failed to meet the federal law’s testing targets than in any previous year, according to new state-by-state data. And in California and some other states, the problem traces in part to the fact that officials chose to require only minimal gains in the first years after the law passed and then very rapid annual gains later. One researcher likens it to the balloon payments that can sink homebuyers. Part of the reason for the troubles was that the states gambled the law would have been softened when it came up for reauthorization in 2007, but efforts to change it stalled. This year Congress made no organized attempt to reconsider the law. The law requires every American school to bring all students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014. When it was first implemented six years ago, it required states to outline the statistical path they would follow on their way to 100 percent proficiency, and about half set low rates of achievement growth for the first few years and steeper rates thereafter.

Among that provision’s most tenacious critics has been Robert Linn, a University of Colorado professor emeritus who is one of the nation’s foremost testing experts. He argued, almost from the law’s passage, that no society anywhere has brought 100 percent of students to proficiency, and that the annual gains required to meet the goal of universal proficiency were unrealistically rapid, since even great school systems rarely sustain annual increases in the proportion of students demonstrating proficiency topping three to four percentage points. “If, no matter how hard teachers work, the school is labeled as a failure, that’s just demoralizing,” Dr. Linn said.

Changes to the New Jersey's elementary and middle school proficiency tests, designed to make them more rigorous, have sent some passing rates downward in both city and suburban districts. For 2008, the state is waiting for the federal government to approve a plan that would factor in the new tests and scoring. New Jersey required new tests this year in both the younger grades and in the high schools. The biggest change is in how the tests are scored. The changes effectively raised the passing score needed in both language arts and math for grades 5-7.
Source: John Mooney, Newark Star-Ledger October 26, 2008