Smart Testing: Let's Get It Right: How assessment-savvy have states become since NCLB?

American Federation of Teachers
July 2006

This report aims to examine the clarity and specificity of the states' academic content standards as well as their alignment with state tests, and also judges the "transparency" of the entire standards-based reform enterprise--the very heart of NCLB. Unfortunately, the findings suffer from grade inflation. In its review of state content standards, for example, a whopping 18 states receive perfect scores for their reading, math, and science standards. How can that be, when Fordham's standards reviewers tend to give honor grades in each subject to but a handful of states? The AFT is apparently satisfied when standards for the elementary and middle levels are detailed, explicit, "rooted in the content of the subject area," and articulated grade-by-grade. The organization doesn't, however, evaluate the soundness or worth of the content itself. Thus Michigan earns perfect scores by AFT standards, but receives two Ds and a C (for English, science, and mathematics, respectively) from Fordham. The Wolverine State's English standards lack, among other things, a list of key authors, works, literary periods, and literary traditions. The state's science and math documents have similar content holes--hardly worthy of perfect scores. And more problems exist in the report's review of alignment between standards and state tests, though this time it's not the AFT's fault. Few states make their tests and related technical information public (how's that for transparency?), so researchers are forced to base their judgments on test specifications instead. Even this generous approach can't mask the poor jobs states do when aligning standards to tests. This report finds that half of the states' standardized tests don't appear to align with content standards. The AFT is right to complain that "when there's a mismatch between the content that's expected, the content that's taught, and the content that's assessed...it's no wonder that folks in schools throw up their hands in frustration." If you want to read more compelling evidence that rigorous national standards and tests are sorely needed, give the report a look (here); otherwise wait for a compilation of Fordham's standards reviews, due out next month.

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