States Are Setting the Academic Bar High. That’s Good for Students

In an interview with the Brian Lehrer Show, education historian and Common Core opponent Diane Ravitch argues states’ commitment to high standards “won’t make a bit of difference” if socioeconomic issues persist. “When we continue the testing regime and think standards are going to close the achievement gap, we are talking some sort of fantasy,” Ravitch contends. “It’s not going to happen. Kids don’t get smarter because the tests get harder.”

Ravitch later shifts to say that her problem isn’t with high standards, but rather with assessments that set the bar too high. “We’re learning what we already knew,” Ravitch alleges, calling annual tests a “failed experiment” that have made schools “places of fear.”

We agree with Dr. Ravitch that there are many factors that affect a child’s education, not the least of which include poverty, family circumstances and home life, and social settings. But to suggest those are a reason to set expectations low not only does a disservice to students by conceding some simply aren’t positioned to succeed, it risks reinforcing those problematic elements.

High-quality assessments are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to measure student development and provide support when and where it’s needed. And importantly, assessments aligned to states’ higher standards provide honest, accurate information about how well prepared a child really is to move on to more challenging content, and ultimately to step into college or the workforce.

The Honesty Gap analysis this year found a majority of states significantly closed their discrepancies between self-reported proficiency rates and those identified on NAEP. States “should really be commended for starting to be more transparent with parents and educators about how their kids are doing,” explains Sandy Boyd, chief operating officer for Achieve. “It really is the first step in improving outcomes.”

“Parents should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or associated tests,” Mike Petrilli writes in USA Today. “They may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers an honest assessment of how our students are doing.”

Importantly, states that have put their full support behind raising standards and high-quality assessments have overwhelmingly experienced gains in student performance.

Although it’s too early to “plant a flag,” the results indicate high standards coupled with good tests are working, Jim Cowen explains. “High standards and high-quality assessments best serve our student’s needs, help prepare them for college and career and are delivering promising results. To change course now would be a mistake.”

Assessments are no silver bullet, but they better ensure all students are held to levels that prepare them for success. That is why the civil rights community overwhelmingly has put its support behind them.

“We rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children. These data are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity,” 12 national civil and human rights organizations wrote last year.

In New York, Reverend Al Sharpton said he is squarely behind high-quality assessments, and against the opt-out movement. “Why are we seeing students in some areas more able in math and English and reading and not in other areas? We need to be able to measure that and we need to be real clear about the educational inequality,” he explained.

Polling shows parents also strongly favor annual assessments. Separate polls by Phi Delta Kappa and Education Next indicate more than eight in ten parents support yearly exams, and about 70 percent oppose opt-out efforts. At the same time, organizations like Learning Heroes offer tools to help parents work with educators to improve tests and support students’ learning.

Ravitch acknowledges that if educators want to teach to high standards, they should be able to do so. And overwhelmingly, that’s the direction classrooms are moving. In fact, only one state—Oklahoma—has reverted back to weaker education standards. Nearly across the board, states are raising the bar for students, and students are meeting it, which is a huge success for public education.