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Test Score Spin

Test Score Spin Defying Reality || John Merrifield || Nov 9, 2013

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

— Thomas Jefferson

The Obama Administration recently celebrated that the 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores are up slightly in the last decade. But as Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson pointed out, the 4th and 8th grade gains are tiny, and occurred mostly prior to the Obama Administration taking office. They made no mention of the more important trend for the school system’s nearly final product, 17-year-olds. The NAEP scores for high school seniors have barely budged over any time span one could pick. The 2012 average score was 287 (out of 500; 57.4% – see Jefferson quote, above); only one point above the 2008 score.

Initially implicit in the Hanushek-Peterson critique is that the Obama Administration’s gutting of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 – 37 states have been granted waivers – was likely responsible for the slowdown in already microscopic NAEP gains. Hanushek and Peterson also noted that the tens of billions spent by Secretary Duncan for stimulus and through the ‘Race to the Top’ program have yet to produce any measurable benefits. But the Hanushek-Peterson closer focus on the top-performing states attributed those states’ above average gains to pre-Obama/Duncan administration of NCLB. Increased teacher accountability, including improved latitude, in places like Tennessee and Washington DC, to fire or otherwise discipline the least effective teachers was given the credit. Culling the worst teachers is low-hanging fruit, and I applaud the few states that are attempting to grab it. Most of the roots of the [low performance] problem remain unaddressed. More rigorous, systematic analysis is needed to confirm primary causes for the state-specific NAEP outcomes.

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