Monday, June 15, 2009

Goldwater Institute: Student testing system a farce

Mattby Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
The performance of every public school in Arizona gets judged under two sets of standards: the state system (AZ Learns) and the federal (No Child Left Behind). Under the federal system, schools failing to make yearly progress over a prolonged period of time face sanctions such as paying for private tutoring and even closure and reconstitution with a new staff.

farceArizona school administrators need not worry about any of that too much, however, as the powers that be have rigged the game in their favor.

Previously, we have written about AIMS suffering the largest dummy down in the country. We have also documented that Arizona's version of the Terra Nova exam produces entirely implausible results. Now a recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation shows that state policymakers have taken further steps to take the bite out of No Child Left Behind.

"Accountability Illusion" chose 18 elementary and 18 middle schools from around the country, and applied the varying No Child Left Behind accountability rules of 28 different states to see which schools would make "Adequate Yearly Progress" under which set of rules.

They were trying to figure out which states jimmied the details to make it easier to meet AYP. They found that seemingly minute details like how many students were required to make up a subgroup and adopted "error margins" make a big, big difference.

Fordham determined Arizona had the second-lowest overall standards of the 28 states studied.

Arizona's student testing accountability system is profoundly off track. We have a dummied down AIMS test, an obviously flawed version of the Terra Nova, and a system of accountability under No Child Left behind that favors the school system's interest in the status quo over the public's interest in transparency. State lawmakers should become far more aggressive in guaranteeing a quality system of transparent student testing.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
Learn more:
Goldwater Institute: Aimless AIMS
Thomas B. Fordham Institute: Accountability Illusion

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