Laura Waters

Is ESEA Slip-Sliding Away? The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Student Proficiency

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 fourth grade reading.  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, “most states set standards equivalent to the ‘Basic’ range in the national assessment.” 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:
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.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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