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Newspaper Flunks State Test

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What part of standardized testing doesn't the Chicago Tribune understand?

Apparently all of it.

A recent Chicago Tribune front-page headline screams "New lSAT lets kids pass with more wrong answers."

Trib reporters requested five years of scoring information from the Illinois State Board of Education and found that the state "has been cutting the number of points required to pass annual achievement exams, allowing children to flub more questions but still be deemed 'proficient.' "

What? You can't depend on standardized test scores?

The Trib seems shocked that standardized test results aren't trustworthy. Haven't they been listening to Education Secretary, Arne Duncan talk about states "lying to children and parents" about standards?

"With No Child Left Behind, we had 50 states doing their own thing, and that led to a 'dumbing down' of standards. You had 50 different states with 50 different goal-posts. And unfortunately those goal-posts got lower and lower....What I'm absolutely convinced of is that in far too many states, we are literally lying to children and to parents." (2009 PBS interview)

And he should know. He was doing it himself. As Chicago Public Schools CEO, he would stand right behind Mayor Daley year after year at the annual "test scores are up again" presstravaganza.

For example, in September 2008, he proclaimed, "it all points to the fact that our core strategies are working. And we're proud that district-wide, more of our students are finding themselves in the exceeding-state-standards category, across subjects."

What? They tinker with test results?

The Trib is appalled that standardized test makers massage the scores each year to make sure that they are "consistent": "Illinois State Board of Education officials explain that the changes stem from a standard statistical process in testing called 'equating,' which is used to ensure tests are comparable across years, even when the difficulty of questions varies."

That's what makes them standardized, you guys. Hello.

It's also what allows test makers to throw out questions African-American students answer correctly more often than white students, as shown in a 2003 study of the SAT. See, they do this to assure that test results (which result in African-Americans scoring lower than whites) are "consistent" from year to year. And we wonder why the Black-White test score gap is so stubborn.

What? Standardized test results have become politicized?

The Trib warns:

"In the high-stakes world of state testing, it's not unusual for suspicions to arise. Across the nation, passing state tests is critical for schools and districts...In Texas this year, school administrators and lawmakers were skeptical of gains on state exams, and newspapers reported that the state had required fewer correct answers to pass most tests. Texas, too, cited standard statistical methods as an explanation. In New York, state education officials acknowledged that state tests had become too easy, inflating scores, so they increased the number of right answers required this year. Passing rates plummeted, making headlines this summer. Last month, Illinois officials announced another year of achievement gains, with higher passing rates across most tests given last spring."

The lies seem to be working.

There's the Texas Miracle, the amazing test score gains and plummeting drop out rates that paved the way for George W. Bush and his education secretary, former Houston schools superintendent Rod Paige, to enact the No Child Left Behind Act. It wasn't until it was too late that the truth came out.

Then there's the New York State testing scandal, which broke wide open during last summer's legislative fight over mayoral control of NYC schools. NYC Mayor Bloomberg had touted his "record of success" raising test scores as justification for extending mayoral control. He still won that battle.

And the Illinois scandal? Well, Arne Duncan is in the top education position in the nation. Apparently test fraud works, at least for politicians.

What? Newspapers play a role?

Until newspapers and the rest of the mainstream media stop blaring nonsense about test scores, stop ranking schools based on test scores, stop demanding that students be retained and that teachers be paid based on test scores, and stop turning the complicated science of education into a numbers racket, the lies will keep coming, and our children will continue to lose out on their best hope for a successful future.