When 40% of an individual teacher’s students fail a standardized test, I imagine the teacher would be scrutinized, and rightly so. Whatever I think of standardized tests, 40% of a teacher’s students shouldn’t fail one, or something’s wrong with the teacher’s instruction. If 40% of a school’s students failed a standardized test, the school might be sanctioned depending on other factors — part of making Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) for NCLB means schools must maintain or even improve their pass rates for standardized tests. If schools fail to make AYP, a series of sanctions will follow, from losing funds to faculty “reorganization.” Again, if 40% of students at a school fail a test, there is something wrong with the school’s instruction.
But what if 40% of students in an entire state fail a test that they must pass in order to go to high school?
Unofficial results indicate that 40% of Georgia’s 8th grade students failed the math portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), the main standardized test used in Georgia to meet NCLB requirements regarding testing. Last year, about 19% of students failed the math portion of the test. Students must pass this section of the CRCT in order to proceed to high school. Some are blaming the new math curriculum, while others are saying the test must be poorly constructed. I can’t say, not having seen it. I asked my daughter, who took it, and she says she believed she passed, as she thought students at her school who didn’t were instructed to see the counselor, and she was given no such instruction. She has been an A-student in math all year, so I shouldn’t have cause to worry, but the fact that 40% of students failed the test worries me.
The news regarding social studies was even worse. Less than 30% of 6th and 7th graders passed the social studies portion of the CRCT. Again, results like this for one teacher or one school can be explained, but for a whole state? Especially troubling to me are reports from students that they were asked questions about material they hadn’t learned. How could that happen on a “criterion-referenced” test?
I know the perception exists that Georgia schools are universally backward, but after having graduated from a Georgia school and watching my children in Georgia schools, I have to say that like everywhere else, Georgia has good schools and poor schools. A pertinent quote from the New Georgia Encyclopedia entry on Public Education:
The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a college entrance exam often used to compare the performance of high school students among states and among school districts within a state. In 2003 Georgia students averaged 984 (combined verbal and math scores) on the SAT, compared with a national average score of 1026. When SAT scores are used to compare states, Georgia usually finishes near the bottom. The College Board, which administers the SAT, cautions against the use of SAT scores for this purpose, because the population of students taking the SAT in each state varies considerably. In some states, most students take a different test, the American College Testing [sic] (ACT). In those states, students who take the SAT generally have strong academic backgrounds and plan to apply to some of the nation’s most selective colleges and scholarship programs. For example, in 2002 there were nearly 54,000 Georgia students who took the SAT. In contrast, only 1,900 Iowa students took the SAT. (As a point of reference, Georgia had more than 72,000 high school graduates in 2002, while Iowa had nearly 34,000 high school graduates.)
My point in bringing this up is that I think it’s unfair to dismiss problems with the CRCT with a blanket generalization like “Georgia’s just got bad schools.”
So what happened, I wonder?