In Maryland there has been an unusual spike in test scores among public school students. Some of the increases are so high that questions are being raised as to whether the scores are valid. In particular an expert in education policy stated:
" I think most people are trying to do the right thing," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy. "But the pressure to get results is enormous, and some people fail. Some people sin."
Apparently, Denver and Texas have also experienced remarkable reversals in test scores in its schools. Huntsville, Alabama elementary schools are showing incredible gains over last year as well, even though some of its high schools are still lagging. Bragging rights in Alabama go to Birmingham where the majority of schools met most of their NCLB goals. However, Springfield, Missouri fell short on its NCLB testing but that is ok with the superintendent because it was the students with special needs who fell short. However, state-wide in Minnesota more schools were not making the NCLB grade. This latest bit of information only makes the other state's data even more suspect since Minnesota is historically a state that invests a lot in education and achieves excellent results. Similarly Massachusetts and Pittsburgh schools are lagging on NCLB standardized. testing. The standard answer at least in Pittsburgh is that we generally are doing fine but it was those special education students that pulled us down.
I have to agree with Mr. Jenning's comments that "some people sin." I recently tried and won a case in due process against a school that takes enormous pride in its test scores on high stakes testing. The school has one class per grade so each individual student's score can change that grade's score either up or down. Losing ground on test scores for this school could have obvious consequences from a NCLB point of view, but in this instance it was also about pride, bragging rights and even resources from the Board of Education.
The student who I represented had significant reading disabilities and on several rounds of testing was reading far below grade level. However, on his NCLB testing he scored at the same or similar level as his grade peers in reading. This apparent contradiction bothered me up to and during the hearing, until I had the teacher on the stand who administered the NCLB testing. She admitted that she had him read the passages out loud and thought nothing of it. On cross examination, she admitted that this practice would allow her to voluntarily and even involuntarily indicate to the student to correct and re-read. She further admitted that she did not use this practice with any other student except for one other, who also had a significant reading disability. The hearing officer noted that this practice was questionable and bore negative inferences (e.g. borderline cheating).
In conversations with school psychologists, I have been informed that students have been tested on reading with familiar word-wall words at hand and other teaching aides in sight that are "just part of the classroom." So much for strict proctoring of tests. I can assure you that no law school would have passages from Black's Law Dictionary on the wall during the bar exam. The stories out of Maryland, Denver, Texas and my experiences raise a significant element of doubt about the validity of testing to measure student progress, if schools are prepared to cheat or shade things in their favor. I do not know that cheating or other impropriety has happened in Maryland, Texas or Denver but it certainly raises doubts and the desire to inquire further; especially when compared to the states that normally spend more for education, but are still lagging relative to test norms and their sister states that spend much less on education.