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July 24, 2009

Does the "plateau effect" really exist?

In light of the ongoing conversation about the MSAs and testing this week, I thought I'd share this new study done by the Center on Education Policy, examining test score trends. 

The CEP reviewed test-result trends in 16 states with six to 10 years of consistent data for its report.

Interestingly, the study found that the so-called "plateau effect" - the idea that scores initially rise, then level off after the tests are administered for a few years - is not necessarily a given.  The plateau concept has often been cited when talking about state tests, and the likelihood of meeting the 2014 deadline for having every child pass the assessments.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Testing, Trends


If you look at NAEP data, students in many places -- including Maryland -- have already plateaued. Teachers don't teach to the NAEP because there is no incentive, and the results are totally anonymous, disaggregated only by state, race, and a few other broad categories. The NAEP, which I think is an extremely high-quality test, is a better measure of overall progress over time. It's not perfect, since states haven't yet agreed to common standards, but its results tell a lot more about long-term student learning than do MSA scores. Changes in MSA scores are NOT meaningless, but they don't reveal much about overall teacher quality or genuine, long-term improvements in student learning. In education, we've been working within pretty much one paradigm for a long time. What's the quotation-- "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results"? It's time for serious reforms.

Whether or not it exists, I think the plateau effect is a useful model. I mean, when a student gets stuck, it's a lot more encouraging to think of it as a plateau than a failure :P

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