Brace yourselves, folks! The NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is preparing to explain to you why test scores dropped from 2012 to 2013. In this week’s CommenTerry, I explain that the drop in test scores indicates larger, ongoing problems with North Carolina’s testing program.
Let’s start with the basics. Test scores will drop significantly. The NC Department of Public Instruction released preliminary test score data for the 2012-13 school year that show dramatic decreases in proficiency rates across grades and subjects compared to the year before. For example, third-grade reading proficiency dropped from 62.9 percent in 2011-12 to 46.7 percent in 2012-13 (See Facts and Stats).
Interestingly, DPI recalculated the 2012-13 results using the (presumably lower) 2011-12 testing standards, and in most subjects and grades, test scores dropped. That said, increases in grades 4 through 5 might bolster Republican claims that the reforms included in the 2011 “Excellent Public Schools Act” are paying dividends.
Regardless, DPI argues that the change is due to higher expectations coupled with changes to the state testing program. This should sound familiar. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson began the public information campaign in a May 28, 2013 blog post titled “Raised Standards, Lower Scores, Higher Achievement.” Superintendent Atkinson writes, “Standards have been raised across North Carolina. Our new Standard Course of Study is more rigorous and demanding. New assessments were put in place in 2012-13 to ensure that students are being accurately measured against those standards.” In subsequent media appearances, including oneyesterday, Atkinson echoed those claims.
My concerns about testing extend beyond the year-to-year change in test scores. In fact, I encourage taxpayers to take a big picture view of the state testing program and ask the following questions:
- Why didn’t the state raise standards and maintain high expectations years ago? By keeping standards and expectations low, the NC Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education did a disservice to an entire generation of public school students in North Carolina.
- What does it mean to “raise” standards and expectations? In other words, what standards and expectations have state education officials used as sources of comparison?
- Why do state education officials insist on incessant tinkering (pdf) with the standards and tests every few years? Multiple changes implemented by state officials since 2005 make it nearly impossible to discern long-term trends in student performance and the efficacy of reforms passed during that period. More importantly, it really annoys teachers and administrators.
- After years of tinkering, why should anyone trust that the state testing program accurately measures student performance? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
- Why does the state insist on using silly and meaningless terms? For the love of God, please do not say that the new tests measure “college- and career-readiness,” a term that has no meaning to the vast majority of North Carolinians.
- Isn’t it time to walk away from these yearly testing fiascos and contract with a company or non-profit that has a track record of developing sound tests?
- Do the Common Core State Standards play a role?
We will have to wait until November to determine how districts, schools, and student groups performed on the 2012-13 tests. In the meanwhile, expect the mainstream media to parrot the DPI talking points.