Every summer and fall, we bombard you with percentages of how many students passed state tets in every school in the Baltimore metropolitan region. Some of you devour the numbers to see if your child's school is on track. Real estate agents pick up the numbers to sell homes near "good schools!"
But a study released today suggests those numbers might be playing tricks on us. States have too many different definitions of what it takes for a kid to pass, the report from the Washington D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute found.With such an "elastic yardstick", the Institute's vice president for national programs and policy Michael J. Petrilli says it's hard to measure whether American schoolchildren as a whole are really doing better in reading and math.
The study, "The Proficiency Illusion," found states have low expectations for elementary schoolchildren, in particular, with the majority of states dramatically lowering standards under pressure to meet ever-rising demands under No Child Left Behind. (Remember, this is the law that spurred states to create lists of failing schools, complete with a complex hierarchy of sanctions including state takeover.) The report found a "walk to the middle," as some states with high standards dropped their expectations in order to meet the punitive federal law's mandate to have every child proficient by 2014.
Clear as mud, now? Ok, good. Let's continue.
Of the 26 states in the study, Maryland had among the lowest reading proficiency cut scores -- the number of questions students have to get right to pass the annual state tests. In fourth grade reading, Maryland ranked 22nd of 26. That means 20 other states had higher expectations in reading for their fourth-graders. In third grade reading, Maryland ranked 16th of 26. In fifth grade, 20th. 21st in sixth grade, 20th in 7th grade and 18th in eighth grade. The report also found that tests were too easy in the early grades, making it easy for elementary schoolchildren to pass them, but making it hard for the same children to pass the state test in middle school, even if they stayed on track academically.
The study joins a growing chorus of critics who say No Child Left Behind needs to soften its edict for 100 percent proficiency and the study might also provide fuel for a new bill in Congress that seeks to create a national standard for passing and national tests, so parents, policymakers and educators alike can be sure that it takes the same to pass a test in Maryland than in does in Washington state.