Spelling Test, Part 2

Testing doesnt reflect our kids. I caught her presentation one recent morning on C-Span, the modern marvel whereby citizens and taxpayers can be silent observers while the big players in American governance are talking to each other while making policy. It was my guess that she was minimizing the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests a sampling of her students took, because they (the results) werent good. Keokuk isnt a large enough district to merit its own numbers in the National Digest of Educational Statistics, where such results are published, but Iowas numbers (for the 4th grade reading exam, for example) are doubtless quite close: 221 (out of a possible 500) compared to a US average of 217. These numbers mean that, as in Vermont where the number is 227, about 2/3 of all students cant make proficient which means, in turn, that they cant function at grade level. Keokuk edu-crats and board have gone a step further to conceal test results they cant easily defend; theyve adopted their own state test, on which Iowa kids mysteriously show as 78 percent, not 36 percent, proficient. These are the results they publicize.

Now, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spelling has been forced to face the credibility and rigor gaps, between the dismal results of federal tests and the seemingly far better results of locally-preferred tests. The pressure is on her to calibrate all such local tests (Vermont included) against the federal NAEP tests, so that parents and taxpayers can get real answers regarding school effectiveness; you might call it the Spelling Test. In general, the right wants the tests so calibrated, and the left doesnt.

Heck, the left doesnt like any sort of testing (see quote above) so its going to be interesting to watch Ms. Spelling in action. The Spelling Test, it turns out, will be primarily a political test.

Martin Harris is a property rights and education-reform activist.

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