Multiple States Ditch My Little Pony Coloring Book Quality Academic Exams

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

New article on the quality of state tests vis a vis NAEP by Paul Peterson and Matthew Akerman at Education Next. The authors demonstrate a trend towards closer alignment in proficiency rates between state exams and NAEP during the Common Core era, with 20 states narrowing the gap. Several states, including at least Arizona and Florida, will debut new tests in a few weeks.

Of special interest to me in the above chart is the overall averages by year trends. Notice Tennessee’s long string of F grades, followed by A grades in 2011 and 2013. Was it a coincidence that Tennessee saw more NAEP progress than any other state between 2011 and 2013? Perhaps so, perhaps not.

Notice also however Washington D.C., which had even larger aggregate NAEP gains than Tennessee between 2011 and 2013 (and a long history of NAEP progress before 2013). Nothing but C grades thus far, but charter schools have been taking the place over and outscoring the (improving) district. Apparently there is more than one path up the mountain.

Can we attribute the general increase in the rigor of state tests to Common Core? The authors note in a fashion as dry as a martini:

CCSS may be driving these changes. One indication that this may be the case is that the six states that are not implementing CCSS for reading or math all continue to set low proficiency standards. Their grades: Virginia, C+; Nebraska, C; Indiana, C-; Texas, C-; Alaska, D+; and Oklahoma, D.

Regardless of where you stand on the Common Core project, and we’ve beat the horse into hamburger on it here, state tests with the approximate rigor of a My Little Pony coloring book- look Mommy I colored this unicorn blue-I’m PROFICIENT!!!– deserve no one’s support.  

In other words, if you are a Tennessee opponent of Common Core you owe everyone a realistic plan that keeps you at an A on this chart. If you want to go back to the old system, you need to explain why you want to spend tax dollars on a state sponsored weapon of mass deception (years of tests that proclaimed you proficient when you signed your name).

This is the space that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey staked out in his campaign- standards that are high but not common. It will be no small task to pull this off in practice, but it is the best path for an opponent of the Common Core project to follow.






8 Responses to Multiple States Ditch My Little Pony Coloring Book Quality Academic Exams

  1. This report really supports nothing about the Core, as I discuss here: The non-Core states actually had a better overall track record of raising standards by the report’s metric (Indiana and Oklahoma were still Core states in 2013, recall), and there are, of course, numerous important variables for which the report provides no controls. There is also the problem that the Core wasn’t even close to fully implemented in almost any state by 2013. To suggest that these results indicate the Core is likely working — as I believe the report tries to do — seems like a serious stretch.

  2. matthewladner says:


    I agree that the trend in 2013 at most reflects what states were doing in anticipation of changing tests rather than the new tests themselves in places other than KY. I’ve come across discussion of Illinois raising their cut scores in anticipation of the changeover (reflected in their grade going from a D-minus to a B-minus between 2011 and 2013. If I am remembering the discussion on the state board correctly they saw it as necessary to avoid a complete shock treatment when going to a new assessment.

    Since you brought up Kentucky, it is worth noting that they went from a C to an A.

  3. So did Kentucky raise their standards because of the Common Core, or would they have done so on their own in the absence of the Core? My concern is that this report seems to be suggesting that the Core is driving states to set higher standards, but the data do not support that conclusion. Non-Core states had a better track record of raising vs. lowering (though of course that doesn’t at all prove that not having the Core leads to higher standards, either). My fear is that this study will be cited as “proof” the Core is working, and we’ll have yet one more over-hyped claim being employed in the already ungrounded Common Core debate.

  4. matthewladner says:

    I see the evidence as suggestive but inconclusive, we will know more after the release of the 2015 NAEP. I’ve been reading these studies since PP started writing them however and 20 states going up is a big deal albeit a big deal of unknown duration and significance (e.g. DC is rocking the improvement without it).

    Like I said in the post, if you support repealing CC in TN, it is impossible for a remotely responsible policymaker not to ask what the replacement would be. “I couldn’t care less as long as we stick it to those rat-bastard CC people” is a response that is likely to enshrine CC for a good long while.

  5. I agree with the concerns raised above, but there is another factor to consider. The gap between state test and NAEP proficiency rates may be a function of the proficiency standard (i.e. cut score), but it is also likely a function of the extent to which schools and teachers teach to the state test. Since they have no reason to teach to NAEP, state test results may be inflated by higher levels of teaching to the test, which would increase the gap. When states switched to Common Core standards, they reduced the motivation to teach to the old tests based on the old standards. There was less reason to teach to the test. This all occurred around 2011-13. So, rather than crediting Common Core as somehow raising state test cut scores at a time when states were not adopting new tests or changing their cut scores on old tests being phased out, a much more plausible explanation is that we just observed a reduction in teaching to the test when it was announced that the tests still in use would soon be replaced and the results considered irrelevant.

  6. matthewladner says:

    That is an interesting theory Jay, but I’m not sure it holds up. Here in AZ at least they changed the standards four years ago but kept the same test. The motivation to teach to the test items did not decline- we were in a weird situation where the state ditched the old standards but still had all the same consequences attached the old test they were giving.

    Maybe things were different elsewhere.

  7. […] many states, taxpayers have been funding tests that are a “weapon of mass deception,” writes Matthew Ladner. “Regardless of where you stand on the Common Core project, and we’ve […]

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