No Correlation Between a Lift In State Standards and A Rise in Student Performance

Daniel Hamlin and Paul Petersen with the Harvard University analyzed states’ 2017 proficiency standards at Education Next and what they found should not surprise anyone who reads Truth in American Education. 

There is no evidence to suggest they increase student achievement.

Here is an excerpt:

So, has the starting gun been fired on a race to the bottom? Have the bars for reaching academic proficiency fallen as many states have loosened their commitment to Common Core? And, is there any evidence that the states that have raised their proficiency bars since 2009 have seen greater growth in student learning?

In a nutshell, the answers to these three questions are no, no, and, so far, none.

On average, state proficiency standards have remained as high as they were in 2015. And they are much higher today than they were in 2009 when the Common Core movement began. That year, the percentage of students found to be proficient in math and reading on state exams was 37 percentage points higher than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an exam that is widely recognized as maintaining a high bar for academic proficiency. By 2015, that gap had narrowed to just 10 percent. Now, recently released data for 2017 reveal a difference of only 9 percent.

The news is not all good. Even though states have raised their standards, they have not found a way to translate these new benchmarks into higher levels of student test performance. We find no correlation at all between a lift in state standards and a rise in student performance, which is the central objective of higher proficiency bars. While higher proficiency standards may still serve to boost academic performance, our evidence suggests that day has not yet arrived.

Emphasis mine.

Read the rest.

Where I beg to differ with the gentlemen is that Common Core represents a “lift in state standards.” It doesn’t. 

2017 NAEP Results Show Little Change

The 2017 results from the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) in Mathematics and Reading have been released and there has been little change.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Compared to 2015, there was a 1-point increase in the average reading score at grade 8 in 2017 (still below the 2013 score of 268), but no significant change in the average score for reading at grade 4, or for mathematics at either grade.
  • A growing achievement gap: NAEP scores are reported at five selected percentiles to show the progress made by lower- (10th and 25th percentiles), middle- (50th percentile), and higher- (75th and 90th percentiles) performing students. In comparison to 2015, the 2017 mathematics and reading scores were higher for eighth-graders performing at the 75th and 90th percentiles and lower for fourth-graders performing at the 10th and 25th percentiles.
  • Across the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense schools, and Puerto Rico (in mathematics only), average scores for most states were unchanged from 2015 in both subjects and at both grades.
  • In Florida, average scores increased in both grade 4 and grade 8 mathematics. Average scores for students in Puerto Rico increased in grade 4 mathematics and for the Department of Defense schools in grade 8 mathematics. Scores decreased in 10 states in grade 4 mathematics and in three states in grade 8 mathematics.
  • In reading at grade 4, average scores did not increase in any state/jurisdiction, and scores decreased in nine states/jurisdictions. In eighth-grade reading, 10 states/jurisdictions had score increases, and one state, Montana, had a score decrease compared to 2015.
  • Most changes in scores across districts were seen in grade 4 mathematics, where four districts (Duval County (FL), Fresno, Miami-Dade, and San Diego) had increases, and four districts (Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cleveland, Dallas, and Detroit) had decreases in scores compared to 2015. In grade 8 mathematics, Philadelphia had a decrease in its average score. In grade 4 reading, San Diego had a score increase, and in grade 8 reading, Albuquerque and Boston had increases in scores compared to 2015.
  • Fourth graders who are eligible for National School Lunch Program (NSLP), attend a city school or have a disability saw a decrease in mathematics scores from 2015.
  • 8th-grade students in public schools, suburban schools, with disabilities, ELL, and non-ELL saw an increase in reading scores.
  • Catholic school students outperformed public school students.
  • The performance gap between 4th grade white and black students widened in Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana in mathematics compared to 2015. No state saw the performance gap narrow in mathematics. In reading, Arizona saw the performance gap widen while the District of Columbia saw their performance gap narrow.
  • Among 4th graders, the white-Hispanic student performance gap widened in mathematics in Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, and New Mexico compared to 2015. Kansas saw their gap narrow. In reading, Tennessee saw their gap widen while Kansas saw their gap narrow.
  • Boys’ average scores are slightly higher than girls in mathematics, they trail girls in reading.

Read the rest of the key findings here.

Using NAEP Proficiency for Accountability Sets Florida Students Up for Failure

From the beginning, the marketing of the Common Core and other progressive education schemes has been brilliant. The PR guys seized on words and phrases that sounded good to the uninformed public and then painted all opposition as manifestly unreasonable. Why would anyone not want “rigorous” standards that teach “critical thinking” and make our children “college- and career-ready”?

Now Jeb Bush and his minions (including his Foundation for Florida’s Future, or “FFF”) are doing the same thing in Florida on a related topic – assessments and school accountability. This time the popular terms are “proficiency” and “honesty gap.” But the real honesty gap yawns between what FFF claims to be doing and what it’s really up to.

As Karen Effrem of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition explains, all this has to do with school-accountability ratings included in the state plans required by the recent fed-ed bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (you know, the statute that supposedly eliminated federal requirements). FFF is pushing legislation imposing school accountability ratings that are linked to whether students are deemed “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – “the nation’s report card” – rather than whether they score at grade level on the state tests.

As Dr. Effrem observes, another Bush foundation website – “Why Proficiency Matters” – “makes it appear that these two achievement levels are completely equivalent and that anyone who opposes this idea is against honesty and raising student achievement.”

But like so much else in the “education reform” universe occupied by FFF and its co-advocates, (such as Achieve, Inc., which helped develop the Common Core national standards), this simply isn’t so. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution states flatly, “Equating NAEP proficiency with grade level is bogus.” Why? Because the NAEP proficiency score is “aspirational” – it was set significantly above what most students could be expected to achieve (as Loveless reports, even some education organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences objected to NAEP’s achievement levels from the outset as “fundamentally flawed” and “consistently set too high”).

Even the NAEP governing board warns against conflating the NAEP proficiency level with grade-level achievement. From the board’s “myths vs. facts” brochure: “Proficient on NAEP means competency over challenging subject matter. This is not the same thing as being ‘on grade level,’ which refers to performance on local curriculum and standards.”

This misalignment seems particularly apparent in math. The 2007 Brown Center Report on American Education projected that even in Singapore – with the world’s highest-scoring math students – over a quarter of students would fail to achieve proficiency on the 8th-grade NAEP test.

The irony here is that Bush and his cohorts nationwide are largely responsible for imposing the subpar Common Core standards on most public schools – thereby practically guaranteeing diminished student performance on any genuine achievement test, and especially on a test such as NAEP with elevated proficiency scores. Recent flatlining or declining NAEP scores have borne that out. Bush’s foundations, in keeping with their longtime enthusiasm for Common Core, refuse to acknowledge the connection between those standards and poor academic performance. But while downplaying this negative trend with NAEP scores, they push the bizarre notion that academic achievement can be improved merely by requiring higher scores – without fixing the underlying “Core” problem that depresses achievement in the first place.

Maybe there’s a larger plan in the works. Dr. Effrem outlines the devastating consequences of saddling Florida’s public schools with inferior standards and curricula and then subjecting them to the NAEP proficiency standard rather than a more realistic grade-level standard: “[T]he passing rate on the fourth-grade reading test would be cut in half from 54 percent to 27 percent. . . . The costs to local districts would skyrocket . . . . These costs would include remediation, progress monitoring, more summer school, and make-up exams . . . .” As she sums up, “the public schools would implode.”

Could this be designed to drive education in a different direction? One possibility would be increasing the number of charter schools (with, perhaps, their politically and financially connected management companies). In fact, the Florida House is proposing an increase in charter funding of $200 million and a school-turnaround plan that accelerates converting schools into charters. Whatever their possible benefits, charters are less accountable to the public and in direct competition with private schools that seek to provide an alternative to Common Core (charters, as public schools, teach Common Core).

An alternative direction would be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s favorite project, private-school choice programs. The obvious problem here is that once government money begins flowing into private schools, government regulations will almost inevitably follow. Indeed, when the nationwide anti-Common Core movement originated in such states as Missouri, Utah, and Indiana, the Indiana parents were battling the national standards in Catholic schools –which were forced to administer the state Common Core test, and therefore to teach the inferior Common Core standards, because they accepted voucher students.

While it’s laudable to raise the bar on meaningful academic achievement, that won’t be done by setting the passing scores unreasonably beyond grade level while simultaneously imposing standards and curricula that practically ensure failure. In Florida, this failure will then be tied to high stakes such as 3rd-grade retention, graduation, teacher pay, and school accountability grades. Labeling so many students, teachers, and schools as failures — when they probably couldn’t meet the new requirements even without the downward pull of Common Core — is simply deceitful.

Whatever the motive of the proponents of this plan, Effrem warns about the negative personal and financial “accountability” consequences of holding students, teachers, and schools to an unreasonable standard. “Raising the bar to a level that is quite simply unattainable,” she says, “is just not fair.” If Mr. Bush and his foundations really want to improve schools, they should advocate freeing them from the snare of Common Core. That would be the honest thing to do.

Activists Challenge Plan for NAEP to Assess Student “Mindsets”

privacyThe National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) that governs the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has announced it will expand beyond assessing students’ academic content knowledge to also include subjective, non-cognitive, socioemotional parameters. Such factors will include “grit,” “desire for learning,” and “school climate.” Assessing “mindsets” of students potentially will allow the government to determine and possibly reshape children’s moral and religious beliefs about controversial social issues.

American Principles Project, Eagle Forum and Education Liberty Watch along with five additional national organizations, as well as, 69 state organizations in 29 states have joined Liberty Counsel to object what they see as illegal changes to the NAEP. (Disclosure: This author is among those who have joined Liberty Counsel.)

As Liberty Counsel demonstrates in its letter to three congressional committees, if these factors are assessed as part of the NAEP test itself, their inclusion violates federal law prohibiting assessment of “personal or family beliefs and attitudes” via 20 USC section 9622. If they are instead part of the background survey given to students, their inclusion violates the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, 20 USC section 1232(h), which requires that such material be made available for parental inspection before administration.

Liberty Counsel attorney Richard Mast, author of the letter, wrote in part:

The NAEP is poised to violate federal law by collecting extremely sensitive psychological/socioemotional data on children; it will do so in a necessarily subjective manner;  it contains a substantial risk of exposing the subject children to possible negative consequences in their later schooling and employment careers, to the extent that even supporters of such assessments are concerned; and it will entrust extremely sensitive data to agencies that are no longer governed by serious privacy law and that have proven they cannot or will not keep personal student data secure.

These proposed changes constitute potential parental rights violations, and expose the children to a litany of harms in the present and in the future. Thus, any efforts to ask questions concerning mindsets and other socioemotional parameters and to collect that data via the NAEP should be halted immediately.

“We believe, along with Liberty Counsel and other signatories, that this expansion of NAEP will not only violate federal law but also possibly expose students to negative consequences of having their most sensitive personal information – subjectively determined – collected and maintained in unsecured government databases. Even without federal statutes prohibiting such action, this overreach would invade parental sovereignty over the education and moral direction of children,” Jane Robbins of American Principles Project said in a released statement.

“American Principles Project urges Congress to protect children by halting this illegal expansion of NAEP,” Robbins added.

“We are extremely pleased and thankful that Liberty Counsel and so many organizations around the country have joined this important national fight for student data and psychological privacy,” Dr. Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch and executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, said in a released statement. “Congress must do its due diligence and properly exercise its oversight authority to stop these obvious statutory and constitutional violations and this continued federal overreach before the privacy and futures of our students are further harmed. We urge our members to help educate their members of Congress about this issue and to be sure to opt their children out of this very invasive test.”

“Noncognitive” Factors: Are they Fair Game for Data Collection and Instruction?

In February 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology released a draft of Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. To many who were aware of this report, it was alarming and controversial. In the summary of this report it says. “There is a growing movement to explore the potential of the “noncognitive” factors—attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability—that high-achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success.” It seems typical that when the U.S. Department of Education releases a report like this the groundwork has already been laid for implementation of the ideas, if they have not already been embedded into existing and newly proposed practice. (this report does not seem to be available on the website anymore)

The Strengthening Research Through Education Act (SETRA S227) would allow for the collection of data on “noncognitive” factors like those mentioned in the summary (see above). Karen Effrem has done a wonderful job of presenting issues and recommendations for SETRA in the brief she has prepared called Issues of Data Privacy, Parental Rights, and Federally Sponsored Psychological Screening in the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA)/Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA) in the Context of Current Federal Law and Programs. Karen Effrem, M.D., is the president of Education Liberty Watch and Executive Director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition. She identifies and expands on four major issues and makes recommendations about them. The four major issues she addresses in this document are:

  1. SETRA seeks to expand federal psychological profiling of our children.
  2. SETRA only appears to prohibit a national database.
  3. There is continued reliance on a severely outdated and weakened FERPA.
  4. Reliance on PPRA that allows sensitive data prohibited in surveys to be collected in curriculum and assessments.

The Summary Response to the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee March Hearing “Strengthening Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students” is a brief summary that Karen has prepared.

A one page handout has been prepared for people to download and share. This one pager is a good initial attention getter that may be followed up with Karen Effrem’s brief.

You should be able to download a pdf copy of this one pager by clicking in the upper right hand corner of the document or by clicking here.

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) intends to begin assessing “noncognitive” factors. To do so, they will collect data on socio-economic status, technology use, school climate, grit, and desire for learning. The NAEP is making a leap from gathering academic content knowledge data to gathering “noncognitive” data. In making this move to gather data on “mindsets” that could be used for psychological profiling, NAEP will likely be in violation of federal law. For more information about this, you are encouraged to read the letter RE: Proposed National Education Assessment Plan and student/parental rights that the Liberty Counsel has addressed to Dr. Karen Effrem.

There seems to be a whole industry involved in the collection, storage, and sharing of student data, including “noncognitive” factors. Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins have written an article called The War on Student Privacy that features some of the players in this industry.

The education system, legislative bodies, government agencies, and industry all seem to think and act as if they are entitled to student data, including student-level (personally identifiable information) and “noncognitive” factors. Are student data, including student-level (personally identifiable information) and “noncognitive” factors really fair game? Many parents would not think so.


Common Core Is Not Getting Kids College Ready

Students in Computer Lab --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

The New York Times reports that High School Seniors have dipped in both their NAEP math and reading scores.  This is especially discouraging since their scores were not stellar to begin with.

The results, from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also showed a drop in the percentage of students in private and public schools who are considered prepared for college-level work in reading and math. In 2013, the last time the test was given, 39 percent of students were estimated to be ready in math and 38 percent in reading; in 2015, 37 percent were judged prepared in each subject.

In a survey attached to the test, 42 percent of students said they had been accepted to a four-year college, suggesting that the need for remedial courses in college will remain stubborn.

“This trend of stagnating scores is worrisome,” said Terry Mazany, the chairman of the governing board for the test. Mr. Mazany is also a former public schools superintendent in California, Michigan and Illinois and is now the president of the Chicago Community Trust, a large foundation.

“A strong foundation in math and reading is essential to a student being prepared for college academics and for most careers,” he said.

Scores improved for students at the top percentile in reading, but scores in both subjects dropped for students in the lowest percentiles. And the number of students scoring below “basic” in both subjects increased from 2013.

This corresponds with a drop we’ve seen among 4th and 8th graders. This should be Common Core’s death knell among reasonable people. We were promised by David Coleman et al, that their approach to literacy with a focus on informational text would increase reading proficiency. That is obviously not the case. The drop in math scores is not surprising as we’ve warned that the math standards ultimately put students behind and it certainly would not help students going into college STEM programs.

There are a lot of factors that can drive test scores, but I think we can safely say that Common Core hasn’t helped.  Top-down education reforms never do.

Boston Herald Says No to PARCC

massachusetts-state-flagThe Boston Herald in today’s editorial calls on the state of Massachusetts to keep the MCAS in lieu of adopting PARCC.

Their editorial board writes:

About two-thirds of Ohio students who took the new Common Core tests were rated by their state as “proficient” in English and math while about one-third in Illinois and one-half in Massachusetts were rated that way, according to The New York Times.

Yet all three groups of students got the same actual numerical scores on the tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, part of the Common Core effort. If a “common” endeavor allows such varying descriptions of the exact same results, what good is it?

No further illustration of the undesirability of the Common Core should be needed. It ought to be rebuked next month when the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education decides whether to junk the familiar (and sound) MCAS tests in favor of the opaque PARCC process (about half of Massachusetts cities and towns already have adopted PARCC)…

…We have often called attention to the objectionable dumbing-down that the Common Core curriculum would mean here. So far Massachusetts students have maintained their position at the top of state rankings on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (which is given only to a sample of students) but that achievement surely would be in jeopardy if the Common Core gets firmly established. It doesn’t help that Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has helped develop the PARCC tests.



Why Fix What Isn’t Broken?

nhunionleadersq-590x332“Why fix what isn’t broken?” That is essentially the question that the New Hampshire Union Leader asked in their Monday editorial.  They write:

If New Hampshire were a nation, it would rank among the top in international math and science scores. So why are all New Hampshire school districts being asked to adopt new, untested educational standards?

One of the supposed advantages of adopting Common Core, which includes testing, is to provide a way to compare and contrast school districts based on test scores. But the United States already has a nationwide test by which every state and school district can be evaluated. It is called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Another supposed advantage of Common Core is to raise educational standards. But New Hampshire students excel at the NAEP tests. In fact, a just-released study used NAEP scores to see how states ranked against some of the highest-and lowest-performing countries in science and math, based on eighth-grade test scores. New Hampshire finished in the top 10 in both categories. In science our kids ranked 7th, only a point behind Japan.

On the whole, New Hampshire elementary and middle schools are doing a pretty good job preparing kids to compete in the modern world. But there are pockets of poor performance. Clearly, the answer is not to impose an untested set of new standards on every district.

Very true.  There are a number of states that should be asking that question instead of trying to “fix” a problem they don’t have with a subpar (and untested) solution.

Education Monopolies: Money Down the Drain

Deborah Thornton, a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute in Mt. Pleasant, IA, pointed out in a guest post at Caffeinated Thoughts that even though education spending has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, results have not.  Thornton writes:

For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2007 reported that 12th grade reading achievement nationwide had declined from 1992 to 2005, by four points (292 to 288).  The percent of students scoring at or above “proficient” was 38 percent, a flat score.  The percent scoring at or above “basic,” was actually lower than in 1992.

The 2009 NAEP report included a pilot program providing in-depth information for 11 states, including Iowa.  Iowa was one of only five states with higher scores in both reading and math than the national average.  Both the reading and math scores for Iowa students were four points higher than the national average.

The NAEP report is the nation’s “report card.”  On a standard A, B, C, D scale of grades, even Iowa schools did no better than a “C” at teaching the basics of reading and math.  This is not a report card our schools and teachers should want.  The results of the NAEP annual report have remained flat since 1992, for almost 20 years.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States spends $10,000 per student on primary, secondary, and tertiary education. As of 2006, we were spending over seven percent of our Gross Domestic Product on education, according to The UK Guardian.  Iowa ranks 26th nationwide in per-pupil spending, at $7,574 per pupil, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

We are spending a significant amount of our national treasury on education and that amount has steadily increased.  However, the results have not changed for the better.

Yet we still hear the clamoring of more money, more money, more money for education!  Education takes up roughly 60% of Iowa’s state budget.  How much more can we really justify spending with these anemic results?