Harvard study gives Race to Top winners bad grades on academic standards
One of the two states chosen by Education Secretary Arne Duncan as a winner in the first round of the $4 billion Race to the Top competition has academic standards that earned the grade of ‘F’ in a new study by Harvard University researchers, while the other state got a ‘C minus.’
The Education Next report by researchers Paul E. Peterson and Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón also shows that standards in most states remain far below the proficiency standard set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP is known as the nation’s report card because it tests students across the country by the same measure and is considered the testing gold standard. States have their own individual student assessments designed to test students’ knowledge of state academic standards, which are all different.
This study, available on the Education Next website, comes on the heels of another analysis done by the Washington D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, which concluded that the two first-round winning states, Tennessee and Delaware, were chosen through “arbitrary criteria” rather than through a rigorous scientific process.
Duncan chose the two winners from 16 finalists in the competition, which pits states against each other in a bid to win federal education funds by promising to institute school reforms favored by Duncan, such as expanding charter schools. Delaware won $100 million, or about $800 per student, and Tennessee was awarded $500 million, or about $500 per student. The second round is now under way.
In the Education Next study, the researchers looked at the percentage of fourth- and eighth-grade students in each state that performed proficient on the 2009 NAEP math and reading exams, and then compared that with the percentage of students deemed proficient on state assessments.
States with a similar percentage of students proficient on state tests and on the NAEP test earned an ‘A.’ But lower grades were given to states with high percentages of students proficient on state exams but with low percentages of proficient students on NAEP. The exact grade depended on how much lower state results were than the world-class NAEP.
Tennessee, with an 'F,' was at the bottom of the list of states and the District of Columbia. It reported that 90 percent of its fourth-grade students were proficient in math on Tennessee’s own assessment, though NAEP tests showed that only 28 percent were performing at the proficient level. Results in reading at the fourth- and eighth-grade reading levels were similar.
Delaware earned a ‘C minus.’ The state said that 77 percent of its fourth-grade students were proficient in math though on the NAEP only 36 percent were. In eighth-grade reading, Delaware said 81 percent of its students were proficient, though only 31 percent were proficient on NAEP.
Five states—Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington—earned an ‘A.’
Alabama and Nebraska joined Tennessee in earning an ‘F.’
The District of Columbia earned a ‘C,’ while Maryland and Virginia both got a D-plus.
The report will be published in the summer issue of Education Next, a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution and online by Harvard University.
It shows that only a very few states have changed their standards significantly since they first set them. Colorado raised its standards from a ‘D’ to a ‘B minus’ between 2003 and 2009, while South Carolina let its standards fall from ‘A’ level to a ‘C minus’, and Arizona standards fell from a ‘B minus’ to a ‘D’.
But changes in most states have been marginal. Tennessee has always received an ‘F’, while Delaware’s standards have fallen from a ‘C’ in 2003 to a ‘C-’ in 2005 and subsequently.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, states actually have an incentive to set low standards because that made it easier to meet the law’s requirements. States with especially high standards have had a harder time doing so. That peculiarity in the law is one of the things that Duncan has said he wants to remove when the Obama administration and Congress rewrite NCLB, probably next year.
Paul E. Peterson is the director of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, where Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón is a Harvard Research Fellow.
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| May 6, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Education Secretary Duncan, National Standards, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top | Tags: Education Next, NAEP, National Assessment of Educational Progress, No Child Left Behind, Paul Peterson, Race to the Top, academic standards, education next, grading the states, state assessments, state content standards, state standards
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