No Child Left Behind Because Tests Are Dumbed Down?

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

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Chicago has lowered the requirements for kids to pass standardized tests. Credit: Getty Images

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus ...

Anyone? Anyone?

Invented bubble gum, you say?

Oh, what the heck. Close enough for public school.

Children generally rise to the level of expectations, and, if they don't, well, you can always lower the expectations.

Look at Illinois. The Chicago Tribune reports kids there have had trouble passing annual achievement exams. So state officials simply cut the number of points required to be considered "proficient."

Four years ago, according to the Tribune, fifth-graders needed 36 to 56 points (about 64 percent) to pass the reading test of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). Now, they only need 31 points (or 55 percent) to pass.

Third- and fourth-graders needed to score 61 percent to pass their reading tests. Now, that's down to 54 percent.

State officials tell the Tribune this is just routine number crunching. But educators are not so sure.

"It absolutely does not make sense," Sherry Rose-Bond, a Columbus, Ohio, school testing official on the board of directors of the National Council on Measurement in Education, tells the Tribune.

Rose-Bond, who also is a past president of the National Association of Test Directors, says while slight adjustments are part of routine statistic procedure, current scores are poppycock.

"You're not going to have this steady downward tangent," she tells the newspaper.

Part of the problem is money. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools risk losing federal dollars and other sanctions if too many kids flunk math or reading tests.

The percentage of the kids who need to pass to satisfy the federal law is increasing -- strangely, just as state expectations are being lowered.

Currently, 77.5 percent of Illinois students have to pass the tests, the Tribune reports. That's up from 70 percent last year. By the 2013-14 school year, all students across the United States will be required to pass for their schools to avoid sanctions.

Some teachers worry they are no longer educating students, simply training them to take standardized tests.

The situation was satirized on "The Simpsons" last year in the episode "How the Test Was Won," when precocious second-grader Lisa Simpson has an intellectual meltdown under the pressure of taking a standardized test.

Meanwhile, her underachieving brother, Bart, and his fellow dimwits are sent off on a fake "field trip" so they won't drag down test scores and threaten the school's federal funding.

Illinois State Board of Education officials insist that's only something that would happen in a cartoon. They tell the Tribune expectations are not being lowered, and, if anything, they are being raised. Questions are getting tougher.

When test questions are easier, more correct answers can be required to pass. When test questions are tougher, fewer correct answers can be required.

"We are now using the model used throughout the industry," Rense Lange, a psychometrician at the state board, tells the newspaper. "We find that the new model fits well, and we have no reason to think there is anything wrong."

Or, maybe the bar is being lowered so the slower students out there, as "Simpsons" Principal Seymour Skinner puts it, "won't weight down the test with your numbskullery and ruin the future of those students who are our future."

Whatever. It's hard to test people's motives with a No. 2 pencil.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.