Education

Are States Using Test Scores To Lie To Parents?

New research from an education advocacy group argues there is a pervasive “honesty gap” across the country in which state officials use overly-easy standardized tests to conceal from parents the true academic performance of their children.

The report, titled ‘Proficient v. Prepared’ and showcased at the companion website HonestyGap.org, was created by Achieve, an education non-profit that promotes increasing education standards. The report compares state standardized test results in reading and math with how students from the same state performed on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a biannual standardized test administered by the federal government to select groups of fourth and eighth graders.

The majority of states, the report argues, have been using easy, generously graded tests that have substantially overstated the preparedness of their students when compared to the “gold standard” of NAEP.

“[They’re saying] students are proficient when by external benchmarks they’re not,” said Achieve President Michael Cohen in a conference call with reporters.

For example, in Georgia, more than 80 percent of students scored at proficient or better on the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) for eighth grade reading, 64 points higher than the number who test proficient on the equivalent NAEP test. For eighth grade math, the gap was 53 points.

While Georgia had the biggest gap of any state, huge differences were common across the country. Other particularly “dishonest” states included Louisiana, Alaska, Texas and South Carolina. Overall, 28 states had an “honesty gap” of 30 points or more in eighth grade reading, and 19 states had a 30-point gap in fourth grade math. In contrast, only a handful of states, notably Wisconsin, New York, Utah and Massachusetts, had proficiency rates that were equal to or lower than those found by NAEP.

Karen Nussle, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, told reporters the data demonstrated the need for state political leaders to increase the rigor of standardized tests.

“This is not a classroom problem or a teacher problem. This is a political problem needing a political solution,” she said.

Nussle was backed up by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who also serves as a member of Achieve’s board of directors. He cited the experience of his own state in the past to make the case that declaring extremely high proficiency was a disservice to both parents and students.

“There is no way you can have 90 percent proficient, and then when students got to community college, 70 percent need remediation,” Haslam said. He likened it to saying everybody in the state could dunk a basketball, without mentioning the hoop was only seven feet high.

Opponents of extensive standardized testing, however, bashed the new report.

“The authors of ‘Proficient vs Prepared’ suffer from their own ‘honesty gap,'” Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the anti-testing organization FairTest, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “All claims about what constitutes ‘proficiency’ are little more than value judgements, which are often based on political or ideological agendas. For examples, studies have found that many high school students whom tests claim are not ‘proficient’ do perfectly well in college and the work force.”

If the honesty gap is a real problem, its proposed solutions could also be quite controversial. Achieve has been a major proponent of Common Core, and lowering unreasonably high proficiency rates has been one of the major justifications for switching states to new, Common Core-aligned standardized tests. With the ongoing backlash among Republicans to Common Core, many may be wary of any argument intended to nudge them back towards the common standards.

Cohen alluded to that backlash while speaking to reporters, arguing that the large honesty gap showed the need for states to stay the course.

“If you are improving your tests…this is not a time to retreat,” he said. “Stay the course even in the face of political pressures out there.”

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