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NCLB Outrages

Do Alabama schools set bar too low?

Ohanian Comment: Alabama may well have a flawed system, but NAEP should not be used as any standard. I have never examined the math questions but I took a close look at reading. Read Gerald Bracey on NAEP.

NAEP is referred to as the 'nation's report card' by corporate politicos and reporters, not knowledegable educators.


A new report raises again the question of whether some states are meeting No Child Left Behind Act testing requirements by using homegrown tests that are not rigorous enough.

And while no states were singled out in this latest report, this editorial page previously has pointed out that Alabama's state-developed NCLB tests show much better academic progress than the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which uses the same standards for all states.

The new study by the National Center for Education Statistics raises similar concerns that seemingly high performing states on state-developed tests show very different results than the proficiency standards used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as "the nation's report card."

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to test to ensure that all students throughout the nation receive an equal chance to learn, but it allowed states to develop their own standards for reading and math proficiency. The NCLB Act mandates that each year states must "measure the proficiency" of students in reading and mathematics for grades three through eight.

Alabama is far from being the only state with major gaps between the percentage of students who are proficient in math and reading on the state-developed tests and on a national test that applies the same standard to all states. But Alabama does have some of the larger such gaps.

Last year, only Mississippi and Tennessee showed a greater disparity in math results, and only Mississippi shows a greater gap in reading results, between state test results and NAEP results.

For instance, testing using Alabama-developed standards show that 74 percent of elementary students are proficient or better in math. But on the NAEP test, only 21 percent of Alabama students score as proficient or better.

In reading, the Alabama-developed standards show that 83 percent of elementary students are proficient or better. But NAEP reading results just 22 percent of students as proficient or better.

In fairness, there are differences between the tests that make direct comparisons problematic. The state-developed tests are given to all students, while NAEP only tests a sampling of students in certain grades, for instance. And there are some differences in the skills tested.

Still, such major discrepancies should be troubling. In Alabama, those gaps are so big that it raises the question of whether the state-developed standards are too easy.

Consider this: When the percentage of Alabama elementary students scoring proficient or better in math is compared with other state-developed test results, Alabama ranked in a three-way tie for the 22nd best results in the nation last year. But on the NAEP math test which measures all states by the same standards, Alabama ranked 48th in the nation.

The comparison gap was even wider for reading. Alabama ranked in a three-way tie for ninth best in the nation in the percentage of elementary students scoring proficient or better in reading using state-developed standards, but just 45th in the nation using NAEP reading standards.

Some experts suggest that what is needed is a uniform set of NCLB standards that would put states on a level playing field. But even if national standards are not required, Alabama education officials need to reassess whether this state's requirements are demanding enough.

A report by the Southern Regional Education Board last year pointed out what is at stake: "Getting these standards right and keeping them right may be the most important task facing public education today.

"If state standards are too low, many public school graduates will not be challenged to develop the knowledge and skills they need to be productive members of the work force," the SREB said. "If standards are too high, states will identify too many students as deficient and too many schools as needing improvement -- and spread resources thin by trying to remediate them all."

This latest study by the National Center for Education Statistics provides one more reason for Alabama to reassess whether its NCLB standards for reading and math should be more demanding.

— Editorial
Montgomery Advertiser


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