In Kansas, according to Standard & Poor’s Statewide Education Insights, about 60% to 70% of students are proficient in reading, as evaluated by the Kansas state reading test. But on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, only 33% to 35% of Kansas students are proficient. A similar discrepancy exists in the math test scores.
Diane Ravitch, in the New York Times on November 7, 2005, writes “Idaho claims that 90 percent of its fourth-grade students are proficient in mathematics, but on the federal test only 41 percent reached the Education Department’s standard of proficiency. Similarly, New York reports that nearly 85 percent of its fourth graders meet state standards in mathematics, yet only 36 percent tested as proficient on the national assessment. North Carolina boasts an impressive 92 percent pass rate on the state test, but only 40 percent meet the federal standard.” So this problem is not isolated to Kansas. “Basically, the states have embraced low standards and grade inflation.”
Ms. Ravitch tells us that the reasons for the huge gaps in proficiency rates include the fact that local education officials and politicians want to present good results, so that we will believe our local officials are doing a good job and that the ever-increasing funds sent to schools are wisely spent. The federal testing program hasn’t faced these pressures.
What is the danger of these local tests that show fairly good results, when in fact the picture is quite bleak? “The price of this local watering-down is clear. Our fourth-grade students generally do well when compared with their peers in other nations, but eighth-grade students are only average globally, and 12th graders score near the bottom in comparison with students in many European and Asian nations. Even our students who have taken advanced courses in mathematics and physics perform poorly relative to their peers on international tests.”
Further: “Last month, the National Academy of Sciences released a report warning that our nation’s ‘strategic and economic security,’ as well as our leadership in the development of new technologies, is at risk unless we invest heavily in our human capital; that is, the education of our people. The academy report made clear that many young Americans do not know enough about science, technology or mathematics to understand or contribute to the evolving knowledge-based society.”
Having produced results like these, the education establishment in Kansas insists on keeping their monopoly on education tax dollars and the minds of young Kansans. We need to rethink the wisdom of this.