Georgia Setting Sights Too Low?
Last year, the state of Georgia reported that 81% of its 4th graders were meeting Math grade level expectations (CRCT). However, when the state´s 4th graders took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 37% were found to meet national expectations. A drastic difference—44% of students went from meeting state expecations to not meeting national expectations. Is this isolated to 4th graders´math tests or it a more common occurance? If so, is there any cause for concern?
Since, NAEP tests are only given in the 4th and 8th grade, we can only compare results for those grades. Here are the percentage of students meeting grade levels in Math and Reading on the CRCT and NAEP:
The results are fairly consistent, and in fact, the differences increase in 8th grade. The state ends up reporting that 97% of eighth graders are reading at grade level, while the national tests indicate less than a third are.
What´s wrong with this picture, and why is it important? I see at least three things worth mentioning.
First, people rise to the level of expectations set for them. I grew up as a competetive swimmer, so I will use swimming as an analogy. Every year, swimming records are broken. If you look at Wikipedia´s page on swimming records you will see that for Men´s swimming the oldest records were set 2008. That means no record set prior to 2008 remains unbroken. As new records are set, expectations rise. As those records are beaten, expectations rise higher. As the cycle continues, achievement goes higher and higher. The phenomenon isn´t limited to adults competing at the olympic level either, young swimmers also set new records for their age groups. While there are certainly differences between education and sports, I believe two things are true for both. Kids rise to the expectations set for them, and, with encouragement, they also thrive on competition, knowing where they stand.
Second, with such low expectations, state evaluations of performance become virtually meaningless. Think about 8th grade reading performance. Since 97% of students throughout the state are considered to be meeting expectations, a couple of students who have a good or a bad day can literally be the difference between the school being a top performer or one of the worst. In that kind of enviornment, evaluations relying on test scores become highly volatile, and extremely frustrating for principals and teachers.
Third, parents aren´t being given accurate information about schools as a whole or their children specifically. Popular school evaluation sites, such as greatschools.org, base their metrics on the percentage of students meeting grade levels on state tests. With 90+ percent of students at most schools meeting expectations, the metrics reported by greatschools.org for the state of Georgia have very little worth. Also, parents are being told year after year, “you´re kid´s on target,” “you´re kid´s on target,” until eventually the parent finds out their kid´s actually not on target at all. A third end up dropping out of high school. We have to let the parents know that their child is falling behind sooner, so that they can make efforts to get their child on track. There´s a lot of blame thrown at parents for not being involved enough, but what about the fact that parents are being misguided on where their kids actually stand?
For these reasons, I consider it important that the state of Georgia raise the bar.
In the meantime, we do have a workaround. It turns out that what the state considers exceeding expectations, the nation considers meeting expectations. If a child was rated as less than exceeding expectations, parents should know that on a national level, they are likely falling behind. That´s why my 2011 Metro Atlanta Elementary School Rankings place a higher weight on students exceeding expectations. Here´s the chart comparing students exceeding state standards to those meeting national standards.