Saturday, February 21, 2015

No National Test

As fans of test-driven accountability (as well as test-generated profits) continue to argue vigorously for the continued repeated use of Big Standardized Testing, there is one argument you won't hear much any more.

Today, there is no easy and rigorous way to compare the performance of individual students or schools in different states....If students take the same assessment under the same conditions, a given score in one place has the same meaning as it does in all others.

That's a from a joint paper issued by ETS, Pearson, and the College Board back in 2010. Back in 2011, USED's National Center for Educational Statistics released a report complaining that fifty different states had fifty different measures of student achievement.

The dream of Common Core was that every state would be studying the same thing. A student in Idaho could move to Alabama and pick up math class right where he left off, and the only way to insure that was going to be that Idaho and Alabama would be measuring their students with the same yardstick. Schools and students would be comparable within and across state boundaries.

That is not going to happen.

The attempt to create a national assessment is a failure. States continue to abandon the SBA and the PARCC; SBA is down to twenty-ish states and PARCC is under a dozen. The situation is messy that I have to give you approximations because it depends on who's counting and when-- Mississippi just pulled out and several other states are eagerly eying the exits and I can't find any listing of in's and out's that is reliable and up-to-date. (And that is before we even talk about how many students within testings states will opt out of their test.)

But what's important is this-- whether the number of states participating is a little over thirty or a little under, it is not fifty. It is not close to fifty. And to the extent that the number is changing, it is not moving toward fifty.

Now, granted, the number is also a bit of a lie. As with the Common Core standards, several states have abandoned the national assessments in name only. Utah, for instance, dropped out of the SBAC, and then promptly hired the same company to produce their new non-SBA test as was producing the SBA test itself. Pennsylvania dropped out of the PARCC, and yet our new tests are very, very PARCC-like.

So many states are, in fact, quietly sticking close to the beloved national assessment-- but because they are politically unlikely to ever admit it, the damage is the same for the lovers of national assessment, because the anti-nationalist states won't allow themselves to become part of the national testing.

Of course, if we wanted a national testing program, we could always go back to paying attention to the NAEP, but it's due for an upgrade and in today's climate, it's hard to imagine how such a job could be done. And it's a pre-existing product, so it certainly doesn't represent a new opening into the testing market. The current test-driven accountability wave has driven billions (with a b) of dollars into test corporation coffers. But the dream of one simple open market has fallen apart. Pearson and AIR and the rest have been forced to do business the old, messy way.

So we can't compare the students of Idaho to the students of Florida. We can't stack-rank the schools of Pennsylvania against the schools of Texas. We cannot measure how the Common Core is doing in every corner of the nation. There is no national, common assessment, and there never will be. On this point, at least, the reformsters have failed.

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