A July 2, 2006 New York Times editorial titled “The School Testing Dodge” realizes that nearly all states report student achievement scores, as measured by their own tests, that are much higher than what the same students do on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress exam. An extended quotation from the editorial:
Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a research institute run jointly by Stanford and the University of California, showed that in many states students who performed brilliantly on state tests scored dismally on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is currently the strongest, most well-respected test in the country.
The study analyzed state-level testing practices from 1992 to 2005. It found that many states were dumbing down their tests or shifting the proficiency targets in math and reading, creating a fraudulent appearance of progress and making it impossible to tell how well students were actually performing.
Not all states have tried to evade the truth. The tests in Massachusetts, for example, yield performance results that are reasonably close to the federal standard. Not so for states like Oklahoma, where the score gap between state and federal tests has averaged 48 points in reading and 60 points in math, according to the PACE report. The states that want to mislead the government — and their own residents — use a variety of dodges, including setting passing scores low, using weak tests and switching tests from year to year to prevent unflattering comparisons over time. These strategies become transparent when the same students who perform so well on state tests do poorly on the more rigorous federal exam. Most alarming of all, the PACE study finds that the gap between student reading performance on the state and federal tests has actually grown wider over time — which suggests that claims of reading progress in many states are in fact phony.
I have written in the past about the discrepancies between state test results and NAEP test results (see No Child Left Behind Leaving Many Behind, Schoolchildren Will Be Basically Proficient, and Every State Left Behind). What is the solution to this problem? Most families don’t have much choice except to accept and use the existing public schools in their state and their fraudulent test results. With school choice implemented through meaningful vouchers, parents will have an alternative to the public school monopoly. If parents do not believe the test results the public schools report, they will be able to do something meaningful: move their children to a different school. As of now, parents have little choice and few weapons to use against the public school bureaucracy — except for the NAEP test results.