Accountability NAEP

Peter Greene: Jeb’s Outfit Declares a National Crisis Due to “Proficiency Gap”

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Peter Greene reports on the latest declaration that the sky is falling, released by the Foundation for Educational Excellence. FEE was established by Jeb Bush to push the Florida Miracle, digital learning, vouchers, charters, and high-stakes testing. When Jeb! decided to run for President, he stepped down and Condoleeza Rice took his place. She has been quiet, perhaps because she is learning the ropes about education. While Condi is studying up, Jeb!s righthand woman, Patricia Levesque wrote this latest blast at America’s terrible schools.

Quite frankly, I wonder why everyone swallows the latest alarm. We are,after all, the most powerful nation on earth. If our schools are so awful, how did we achieve economic, military, and cultural success? Sure, we have problems, big problems, especially segregation and poverty. But that is never what reformsters worry about. They work on the assumption that if they could get the right standards and the right tests, poverty would disappear.

FEE has discovered an earth-shattering crisis: the “Proficiency Gap.” It seems that NAEP has a higher standard for proficiency than almost every state. This is not a new finding. I think it has been written about many times. The NAEP “proficiency” standard is very high; it represents a very high level of performance on the NAEP tests. States, which must be concerned about getting kids through high school, do not set as high a standard as NAEP. NAEP proficiency was never meant to be a goal that all or almost all students could reach. No matter how high your expectations, some kids will not do as well as others. Not all will achieve A-level performance.

Greene’s complaint is that FEE never defines what proficiency is or how it should be measured. FEE seems to assume that a score on tests of reading and math are all that is needed to predict whether students are ready for college and careers. Peter has too much experience to accept that claim, especially when it comes from privatization advocates with no classroom experience.

Greene asks:

Is there a proficiency gap?

Between what and what? If the assertion is that we have a gap between the results of one lousy standardized test and another different lousy standardized test, then, yeah, I guess so, but so what? If the gap is between what we tell students they can accomplish and what they actually are able to accomplish– well, where’s the evidence? Oh, I know what reformsters believe– that all the poverty in the country is the result of students who couldn’t score high enough on a standardized test. This strikes me as highly unlikely, though I get that there are many possible explanations for and solutions to widespread poverty. But if we’ve had the most terrible education system in the world, and we should fear that because it will lead to failure and collapse, I just feel as if the country isn’t doing as badly as all these chicken littling privatizers want to say, and where I do see failure, I see problems of racism and systemic barriers to class mobility. Oddly enough, race and poverty do not appear as issues on the proficiency gap site.

So if FEE is declaring that states need to do more about closing the resource gap and the opportunity gap and the stupid racist barriers gap, that would be swell. But I’ve read enough FEE materials to suspect that they’re chicken littling in one more act of “There’s a terrible emergency, so you must do as we say!!” The Honesty Gap folks wanted us all to buy more PARCC and SBA tests, and Common Core harder, as well as handing over more public schools to private interests. Oh, and stop opting out. This seems like more of the same old stuff aimed primarily at helping privatizers close their revenue gaps.

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