Higher Standards Encourage Greater Accountability, Not Less

Thank you to the Bluegrass Institute’s Richard Innes for pointing out our error. The first version of this blog post incorrectly stated that Kentucky had adopted PARCC before it chose the K-PREP assessment.

The key point that we wanted to make in our blog post is that, as supporters of high standards, we absolutely encourage the use of high-quality, aligned assessments to accurately measure student performance over time. The implication that the standards somehow discourage states from measuring trends in student achievement is unfair – and, as we have done before, we will continue to oppose state actions that mask student performance.


 

As Kentucky implements higher education standards, “almost all testing trend lines” with reliable and respected student assessments “have been severed,” Richard Innes argues on the Bluegrass Institute blog.

“Very simply, Kentucky’s assessment trend lines have been vanishing left and right at precisely the time we badly need such trends to assess what Common Core is really accomplishing…Why would college readiness tests need to be replaced if Common Core is supposed to be about such readiness?” Innes questions.

We agree it is critical for states to have high-quality assessments to measure student growth. Good tests are one of the best tools teachers and parents have to ensure their kids are on track towards college and career readiness and to provide support where their students need it most. However, it is untrue to suggest that states are replacing tests to mask student achievement.

In fact, the Honesty Gap analysis earlier this year found that most states have significantly narrowed discrepancies between state-reported proficiency rates and those identified by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an objective measure of student readiness. Kentucky officials “should continue to tighten the state’s definition of proficiency” to ensure parents and teachers have accurate, actionable information, the state analysis notes.

Jim Cowen cautioned that states that have pursued independent assessments to pacify critics have invited disruptions and costs, and would likely to end up with weaker tests:

“Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges…states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process.”

Fordham Institute President Mike Petrilli reiterates that position, adding that states that have adopted independent tests should evaluate their effectiveness. “It may turn out that their tests – most of them also new – are also sound, but we won’t know until somebody gets under their hoods to see.”

Innes’ suggestion that Kentucky’s testing policies are a scheme to inflate or cover up student performance is simply not defensible. This year, most states administered tests aligned to higher standards for the second consecutive year. Overwhelmingly, student proficiency in math and reading increased. Notably, some of the biggest improvements came among third-graders, who have spent most of their academic careers learning to meet higher standards.

“While there are numerous factors that affect student scores, and it is still too early to make definitive declarations, the 2016 assessments suggest that the promise of higher academic standards—whatever they may be called—is working,” Cowen explains.

States have raised the bar for students, and evidence indicates that students are beginning to achieve to those higher expectations. At the same time, schools are becoming more transparent, providing parents and teachers with accurate and actionable information. That is a big accomplishment, and policymakers should continue to build on it.

Many educators, parents and education advocacy groups are collaborating to improve testing policies further. There are a myriad of resources available to families to help work towards fewer, fairer and smarter assessments. We have compiled several here and encourage parents and educators to learn more.

States like Kentucky are headed in the right direction by setting expectations high and evaluating progress toward those goals. Instead of lamenting former systems, as Innes does, families have a chance to build on what’s working and shape testing policies that better ensure their kids are fully prepared for college and careers.