.Nameplate
Executive Perspective                                         Page 55

 

Intelligent Comparisons With

National Standards    

 

BY DANIEL A. DOMENECH

 Daniel Domenech

It has been seven years since Thomas Friedman published The World Is Flat. In the intervening years, America’s public schools have had to contend with yet another factor, global competition. The poor performance of American students on the Programme for International Student Assessment and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study is well-documented and feeds the rhetoric that America’s public schools are failing.

Many of us argue against that conclusion. After all, is the United States not the leading world power? Are we not the world’s leading economy? Eighty-nine percent of our students are educated in the public schools. Is there not a correlation between our success as a nation and the large percentage of our citizenry educated by the public schools?

It is somewhat ironic that, in a country with 50 separate state educational systems and 13,809 school districts and no national assessment, we should be so concerned with how we stack up globally. We are the United States of America in everything but education. Our Constitution gave the states the responsibility to establish a public system of education, and they have tenaciously guarded that obligation.

Negative Energy
During the Clinton administration, I was appointed by Education Secretary Richard Riley to serve a term on the National Assessment Governing Board. The administration was pushing for the development of a national test to become part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The negative energy emanating from the states against that idea was palpable, and the test soon found its way into a steel vault somewhere in the bowels of the U.S. Capitol, never to be seen or heard from again.

The George W. Bush administration’s iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act became No Child Left Behind. Fully aware of the antipathy that states held against a national test, when Congress passed NCLB they allowed each state to use its existing standardized assessment instruments to determine if it was making adequate yearly progress.

Furthermore, each state was allowed to set the critical cut points on the test that determined whether a student had achieved proficiency. States soon learned to game the system, and cut points were arbitrarily reduced to increase the number of students reaching the proficiency level. Results on NAEP’s reading and math assessments became the only national benchmark to which the state test results could be compared. It soon became apparent significant disparities existed between state and NAEP results. With each state developing its own operational definition of proficiency based on the cut point established on the state test, interstate comparisons are difficult if not impossible.

Along comes the Common Core State Standards. In an attempt to address the need for national stand-ards, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers collaborated in the development of a set of educational standards that are to be voluntarily accepted by every state. This is a move toward national standards, not federal standards imposed by the U.S. Department of Education. Nevertheless, it is clear the current administration favors the adoption of common standards when it bankrolls the development of tests to assess the standards in two groups of states — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium of 27 states and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers of 24 states.

Equivalent Expectations
National standards and a national test are not foregone conclusions. States’ rights and the fear of federal intrusion in local affairs are strong impediments. Our three levels of government, local, state and federal, need to come to terms with their respective roles in public education. We are concerned about our performance on international tests, but we have yet to establish a national test that would give us valid and reliable measures of how our students would meet national standards. Tests like PISA and TIMSS provide valuable benchmarks of how our students meet the international standards upon which those tests are based, but is it not a shame that we have no national stand-ards to compare our students to?

Education reform should be focusing on a re-examination of our education culture. It should begin with the establishment of what we believe every student should know and be able to do, not in New York or California or Florida, but in every state across the nation — the same expectations for a child anywhere in the United States — and assessed with the same instrument. Then we will be able to talk intelligently about how we fare against other countries in the world, if that truly matters.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org

 

 

feedbackicon
Give your feedback

ICON-facebook-35px
Share this article

bookicon
Order this issue