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Tests, tests, and more tests

In the category of suspicion-absent-proof fall the two major questions surrounding the achievement testing of public school students and the decision of all 50 states to reinvent the testing wheel by adding their own, commercially purchased, locally-preferred testing regime. In Vermont, the feds subject a small sample of students to the National Assessment of Educational Progress testsfor example, math and reading at the fourth, eighth, and 11th grade levelsand in addition the state itself subjects just about all its students to the currently-in-favor commercial test, the New England Common Assessment Program, on which, mysteriously, students do twice as well as they do on NAEP. Both questions go to educrat motive: do states buy these tests specifically because they enable the publicizing of better-looking resulting scores than the NAEP shows, and, do States buy these tests specifically because they arent in nation-wide usefor example only three of the six New England States use NECAPand so their use makes State-by-State comparisons just about impossible? My opinion, as befits an opinion column, is yes and yes. However, just as all that stuff you thought was erased from your hard drive isnt, the NAEP stats are still out there. You can still conduct your own educational data research and State-by State comparisons using the fairly-readily-available not from your local district or Montpelier, both of which have gone to some lengths to make the federal stats not readily available, but from the U.S. Department of Education in the District of Columbia statistics published annually in the National Digest of Educational Statistics. Any of your three Congressional delegation members will be delighted to perform constituent service on your behalf and get you the current copy, 2005. Due out soon is 2006. A summary has been published by the American Legislative Exchange Council for 2007; here are their data for Vermont and Utah: Thats because, for starters, you might want to compare Vermont, highest-per-pupil cost and lowest average-class-size state, with Utah, lowest-per-pupil cost and highest average-class-size state, in terms of the effects of these inputs on the measured output, student achievement. ALEC data show 2007 test data and 2005-6 spending, p/t ratio, and so on. Using the same home-made Cost-Effectiveness Index I described recently in this space for the Addison County districts, you can divide each states fourth-graders scores averaging math and reading proficiency by its per-pupil annual spending. For Vermont the numbers read 44 percent proficient divided by $13102 spending, for an EI of 34. For Utah the numbers read 37 percent proficient divided by $5556 spending, for an EI of 66, almost twice as much achievement per dollar, traceable, of course, to class-size policy. Utahs seemingly large class sizes, today, are actually a third smaller than they were in the 1950, not exactly a time of pre-civilization cave-dwelling. Today, average p/t ratios are: Vt., 10.9-to-1; Utah, 22.1-to-1. The proficiency percentages come from the actual test scores 227 out of a possible 500 in Vermont, 221 in Utah. If you look at the average scores by race, Vermont and Utah are even closer: whites in the former score at 227, in the latter at 226 the national averages for fourth grading reading are 217 for all students, 228 for whites. Stated differently, Vermonts fourth graders, statistically all white, make a point less on the NAEP reading test than the national average for all white students, at Vermonts annual per pupil spending of $13,102 compared to $9,295 nationally. Small wonder, then, that state educrats would prefer as little distribution of all these inconvenient truths as possible. And that in turn explains why Vermont (and all other States, to a somewhat lesser extent) have embraced States Rights and have purchased, deployed, and publicized the results of their own currently-preferred testing regimes, and have made citizen perusal of the nationwide data, with all the uncomfortable comparisons those data make possible, as inconvenient as possible. They also show that ever-higher per-pupil spending and ever-smaller class sizes arent the pedagogical cure-alls the educrats would have you believe. Imagine that. Vermont observer Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.

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