Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Test scores should be treated with caution

Comments from Annie: Following disclosure on the county school policy which resulted in reports of (artificially) high scores on High School Assessment exams, our local paper published some enlightening observations.

Personally, I think the editorial observations about the “activists” perspective are bent but I was grateful for the sideways acknowledgement.

Our say:
Test scores should be treated with caution


Perhaps we should add a standard disclaimer to stories and editorials on standardized tests:
Conclusions drawn from these numbers should be treated with caution, as they can be skewed by factors that school officials may not have emphasized.

Last week, we ran a story on results from the state High School Assessment exams that will ultimately determine whether students, starting with the Class of 2009, can get high school diplomas. We reported that, between 2005 and 2006, the percentage of county students passing the government exam climbed from 67.4 to 86.4 - nearly 20 percent. A great showing, right?

The phone calls immediately started coming. The callers pointed out that the county school system had started a new remedial social studies track that is forcing about 1,600 of the students weakest in the subject to put off the government exam until 10th grade or later.

Naturally, if you don't let the worst students take the test, you get better scores. This remedial track probably had something to do with Anne Arundel having the highest passing rate on that exam among the state's five-largest counties - indeed, the second-highest in the state. This should have been pointed out when the scores were announced.

Still, school officials insist that the remedial program, which stresses reading, is the only way to prepare students to pass the HSA tests.

We hardly think it likely that county school officials devised the remedial track to inflate test scores. It wouldn't be worth so much effort to get a temporary boost in the numbers. The system can delay when some kids take the HSA tests, but sooner or later they must take them - and pass them. There won't be any way around that.

But this story underlines the objections some education activists have to the renewed emphasis on testing brought about by the federal No Child Left Behind Act - objections always worth keeping in mind, if only to caution educators.

The activists fear that "teaching to the test" hollows out the curriculum and diminishes emphasis on the electives that may point some students to their career paths. And they point out that when everything depends on a certain measuring stick, educators are sorely tempted to bend that ruler a little bit.

We've supported testing as the only sure way to keep the schools on track to excellence in an increasingly competitive world - and a way of measuring what the taxpayers get in return for their enormous investment.

But test scores are best viewed broadly and over the long haul. You can be misled if you get hung up on year-by-year fluctuations - which can have little to do with what children actually learned.

That's a good cautionary note as the 2006-07 school year gets under way.

— The Capital Editorial Board
The Capital, Annapolis, Md.


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.