It might just be, in the view of the public-education community, that the seminal event of 2001 wasn't the Islamic terrorist destruction of the Twin Towers, but the adoption of then-obscure public law 107-110 soon to be known as No Child Left Behind, or NCLB.
Since 1969, the feds had been reaching into classrooms in each state to test a small sample of 4th, 8th, and 12th graders in such areas as math and reading, and then publishing the dismal (average scores, in the low 200's out of 500) NAEP test results in the annual National Digest of Educational Statistics, but no one in educational circles paid much attention until NCLB unleashed a new requirement: that just about all students be testing at the "proficient" level by 2014, and that, until then, the schools had to demonstrate that they were making Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) toward that goal. Outrageous. Unfunded federal mandate. Violation of states' rights.
Rutland N.E. school superintendent William Mathis led a legal challenge to the unreasonable notion that his schools were supposed to educate their students to the level of proficiency in subjects such as math and reading. If you want that, you'll have to pay a lot extra for it, his lawsuit says.
There's a clause in NCLB which lets states purchase, deploy, and publish the results of purchased private-sector tests (in, Vermont, for example, NSRE or NECAP) wherein students seem to do far better than on the NAEP tests, on which students weren't making anywhere near the required AYP requirements, and eventually the feds decided to do a study on the discrepancy.
In 2007 it was published under the title "Mapping 2005 State Standards Onto the NAEP Scales," and soon drew a modest amount of public interest. U.S. News and World Report, for example, published a lengthy article (March 5, 2007) including a state-by-state chart showing graphically the gap between State and NAEP test scores, so that an average 2/3 of students showing non-proficient on the NAEP's were mysteriously showing 2/3 proficient on such tests as Vermont's current preference, NECAP.
Except that Vermont's NECAP scores weren't in either the federal study or the USNWR article and chart, so a reader couldn't see how much they exceeded the state's NAEP results.
Intrigued, I inquired at the education department's NCLB office in Washington, and soon received an e-mail from one Bert Stoneberg, NAEP coordinator for Idaho, and then from one Susan Hayes, NAEP coordinator for Vermont. From the former came the suggestion that I look at a report from an educator forum in Nashville last year, convened to discuss the increasingly embarrassing NAEP-to-State-tests score discrepancy pattern.
As I reported in this column space last week, a funny thing happened at (or on the way to) that forum: the participants decided to solve the problem by re-defining the NCLB all-students-proficient-by-2014 requirement as merely an all-students-basic requirement, that "there are two definitions (who knew?) for "proficient," one for NAEP and one for NCLB" and that students who can make basic on the NAEP tests should be considered proficient for meeting that onerous NCLB AYP all-students-proficient-by-2014 legal requirement.
You can read the above quote for yourself in "Using NAEP to Compare States or to Confirm State Test Results" published by the Idaho State Board of Education, Dr. Stoneberg's home base. As an exercise in brilliantly flexible semantics, it's another example of your tax dollars at work in the sophisticated leadership of public education, I would opine.
From Hayes I received a four-page study commissioned by the Vermont Education Department to make up for the embarrassing blank space for Vermont on the federal "Mapping 2005 State Standards onto the NAEP Scales".
It reports, on page 3, that Vermont 4th graders in 2005 made the NAEP equivalent of 236 in math and 215 in reading on the state-preferred NECAP exams, those same exams which local districts cite in claiming about a 2/3-of-all-students-proficient accomplishment in their annual reports.
These numbers are well below their actual NAEP scores: 244 in math and 227 in reading, but even so the study author then says that "Vermont's NAEP Scale Equivalents are very high...Vermont is at among (sic) the top performers in both reading and math at grade 4" and so on.
More on this happy interpretation of the 236 and 215 out of a possible 500) numbers next week.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.