"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, September 08, 2014

NAEP, Common Core, and the Continued Production of Failure

For those who never knew Gerald Bracey's work, all I can say is you have a lot of catching up to do.  It was his writing in the Kappan in the 1990s that caught my attention, and then came his books.  

He was a master at using his steel trap logic and his delightfully sharp pen to pop all the gas bags floating over the education policy centers of Washington, DC.  

One of his favorite subjects was NAEP and the ridiculous cut scores that were developed and maintained under the watchful eye of people like Chester Finn and his pal, Diane Ravitch (prior to her conversion to corporate unionism).  

Here is a clip from a piece that is available online from 2008, where he offers a brief yet enlightening history of the NAEP cut scores, which have been used ever since the late 80s by corporate ed reformers to remind us all how horrible our schools are.  

In 1988, though, Congress created the National Assessment Governing Board and charged it with establishing standards. NAEP now became prescriptive, reporting not only what people did know but also laying claim to what they should know. The attempt to establish achievement levels in terms of the proportion of students at the basic, proficient and advanced levels failed.

The governing board hired a team of three well-known evaluators and psychometricians to evaluate the process — Daniel Stufflebeam of Western Michigan University, Richard Jaeger of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Michael Scriven of NOVA Southeastern University. The team delivered its final report on Aug. 23, 1991. This process does not work, the team averred, saying: “[T]he technical difficulties are extremely serious … these standards and the results obtained from them should under no circumstances be used as a baseline or benchmark … the procedures used in the exercise should under no circumstances be used as a model.”

NAGB, led by Chester E. Finn Jr., summarily fired the team, or at least tried to. Because the researchers already had delivered the final report, the contract required payment.

Flawed Uses
The inappropriate use of these levels continues today. The achievement levels have been rejected by the Government Accountability Office, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the Center for Research in Evaluation, Student Standards and Testing and the Brookings Institution, as well as by individual psychometricians.

I have repeatedly observed that the NAEP results do not mesh with those from international comparisons. In the 1995 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, assessment, American 4th graders finished third among 26 participating nations in science, but the NAEP science results from the same year stated that only 31 percent of them were proficient or better.

The National Academy of Sciences put it this way: “NAEP’s current achievement-setting procedures remain fundamentally flawed. The judgment tasks are difficult and confusing; raters’ judgments of different item types are internally inconsistent; appropriate validity evidence for the cut scores is lacking; and the process has produced unreasonable results.”

The academy recommended use of the levels on a “developmental” basis (whatever that means) until something better could be developed. In 1996, the National Academy of Education recommended the current achievement levels “be abandoned by the end of the century and replaced by new standards … .”

Continuing Mischief
Here we are almost a decade into a new century and the old standards remain, causing a great deal of mischief every time a new NAEP assessment is released to the news media. No one is working to create new standards. Why? The use of the NAEP standards fits into the current zeitgeist of school reform as all stick and no carrot.

When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Center for American Progress rolled out its jointly developed “Leaders and Laggards” in February 2007, the report lamented: “[T]he measures of our educational shortcomings are stark indeed; most 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in either reading or mathematics … .”

At the press conference announcing the report, an incensed John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, declared: “It is unconscionable to me that there is not a single state in the country where a majority of 4th and 8th graders are proficient in math and reading.” He based his claim on the 2005 NAEP assessments.

Podesta could have saved himself some embarrassment had he read the recent study by Gary Phillips, formerly the acting commissioner of statistics at the National Center for Education Statistics. Phillips, now at the American Institutes for Research, had asked: “If students in other nations sat for NAEP assessments in reading, mathematics and science, how many of them would be proficient?”

Because we have scores for American students on NAEP and TIMSS and scores for students in other countries on TIMSS, it is possible to estimate the performance of other nations if their students took NAEP assessments.

How many of the 45 countries in TIMSS have a majority of their students proficient in reading? Zero, said Phillips. Sweden, the highest scoring nation, would show about one-third of its students proficient while the United States had 31 percent. In science, only two nations would have a majority of their students labeled proficient or better while six countries would cross that threshold in mathematics. . . .
We're still using that same NAEP to make the case for how our teachers and schools are sending our economy down the drain and creating a national security threat.  And Chester Finn's Fordham Institute always takes the lead on hammering the schools every time the NAEP scores are released.

Well, something new is on the horizon that will make NAEP scores look positively great.  According to a report by the Carnegie Corporation last year, recently brought to my attention by Valerie Strauss, Common Core promises to not only run down the score but to run off large numbers of students from high school.  Here is a most disturbing chart with projections for the next few years, from p. 3, which I hope you will share (click to enlarge):

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