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Volume III, Number 1, January, 2005

Source: The Rand Study - Page 76

We are witnessing what amounts to a shameful charade as NCLB has forced schools and states into a competition for window dressing - apparently impressive scores and indicators that actually mask failure and serious problems. In the business world it would be called fraud. In the realm of current educational policy it masquerades as reform.

Sadly, the Rand study shows that state claims of success rarely match up to student performance on a rigorous national measure like the NAEP tests.

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

© 2005, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved

It turns out that the supposedly impressive test score gains reported by some states in recent years do not stand up to scrutiny.

Comparing state test results with scores on the NAEP tests, the Rand Corporation found huge gaps between the successes claimed by some states and their actual performance on NAEP.

Quoting from the Rand Report . . .

Fourth-grade state proficiency rates on the NAEP ranged from 10 to 43 percent; in marked contrast, proficiency rates on the state assessments ranged from 21 to 90 percent. Table 5.1 (ABOVE) shows the distribution of scores on the 4th-grade reading state assessments and the NAEP.

NAEP Web site. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/

Click Here or on the Chart Below to Enlarge and Read State Names

The Performance Gap is Much Larger in Some States

What is Going Wrong?

Despite the claims of the NCLB gang and because of their wrong-minded policies, reading instruction in the United States has taken a fatal turn. It may take a decade to reverse the damage as focus has swung to phonics, drill-and-practice and scripted lessons in ways that contribute little to the development of comprehension.

Ideology masquerading as research-based policy is warping the way young children learn while state test results give the (misleading) impression that reading is improving. The scores improve in part because those state tests are tilted in ways that exaggerate (and falsify) results. They also improve when schools drop all other subjects except reading and math. They improve when teachers teach to the test and students memorize patterns. But these kinds of improvements are short lived and unlikely to transfer or show up on more demanding, secure tests that cannot be rehearsed.

Some states, as seen above, have inflated their success stories more than others, wandering farther from the tough standard posed by the NAEP tests. The gaps in Mississippi, Texas and Georgia top the list with a more than 50% gap between state reports of passing students and the NAEP results.

While the Rand Report authors are too polite to state the obvious, what we are seeing is the intrusion of politics into the educational world in ways that are reminiscent of the Enron accounting scandal.

To survive in the NCLB environment, schools and states must look good. It would be better if they also did good, but packaging has replaced substance in some states.

Quoting from the Rand Study . . .

To succeed in post–secondary education or employment, students must emerge from high school possessing literacy skills and critical-thinking skills so that they can extract and construct meaning from a variety of texts. Recent reform efforts have yielded positive results in improving reading achievement for the nation’s children in the primary grades. However, many children are not moving beyond basic decoding skills—deciphering and/or sounding out—to fluency and comprehension, even as they advance to the fourth grade and classes in history, mathematics, and science (deLeon, 2002).

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What Needs to Change?

We need a national policy that is better informed on what constitutes effective learning of reading, especially those aspects most likely to contribute to the learning of comprehension skills.

If we care about the skills measured by NAEP, then we need to align programs across all the states to match those kinds of literacy and thinking goals. The latitude allowed to each state in establishing its own testing programs makes a mockery of the accountability promised by NCLB.

We need more focus on capacity building with less intrusion and dictation from Washington.

We need leaders who understand schools, children and learning rather than bureaucrats who gamble with our children's futures as they play with reform concepts and strategies that are untested, unproven, reckless and potentially harmful.

We need less threatening, less punishing and more helping.

© 2005, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.