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The New York Times published an editorial (“The Counterfeit High School Diploma”) today lamenting the poor preparation of high school graduates. The Times enthusiastically supported No Child Left Behind and applauds the continued federal mandate for annual testing. The editorial is a caricature of the criticism of high-stakes standardized testing. The editorialist believes that opposition to high-stakes testing was cooked up by teachers’ unions to protect their members, ignoring the parent-led opt out movement and the solid research base for opposing such testing (including statements by the American Statistical Association, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Educational Research Association).
The Times’ editorial says:
Teachers unions and other critics of federally required standardized tests have behaved in recent years as though killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States. In reality, getting rid of the testing requirement in the early grades would make it impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year.
The statement above is sheer nonsense. The loudest criticism of “federally required standardized tests” has come from parent groups, not teachers unions. No one has ever said that “killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States.” And it is beyond ridiculous to state that without the testing requirement it would “impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year.”
Note to New York Times editorial writer from Planet Reality: There is a federal testing program called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that reports on what U.S. students are learning every other year. NAEP has been testing students since the 1970s and reporting on states and individual districts since 1992. The scores on NAEP have steadily increased until the adoption of NCLB in 2002, when progress slowed. Test score gains came to a crashing halt in 2015, as NCLB, Race to the Top and Common Core converged in a frenzy of exactly what the New York Times wants.
If students are graduating with empty high school diplomas, it cannot be because there wasn’t enough testing. We have had a federal policy of high-stakes testing, and students are graduating unprepared for college and careers. So the New York Times’ solution: keep on doing what hasn’t worked for 15 years. Keep high-stakes testing and add Common Core so that standards are higher.
The New York Times blames states and teachers unions for the failure of high-stakes testing. It bemoans the loss of enthusiasm for the Common Core standards. Maybe the editorialist should do some research and learn that high-stakes testing creates perverse incentives to game the system, teach to the test, and cheat. Maybe he could start by reading Tom Loveless’s prediction in 2012 that the Common Core would make little or no difference in test scores, because the test-score differences within states (with exactly the same standards and curricula) are as great as differences between states. Test scores reflect demographics, not curricula, standards, or teacher quality. Anyone who believes that the Common Core standards will magically improve achievement and close achievement gaps has not been paying attention to research, evidence, NAEP, or reality.