State Assessments Hinder Capable Students

The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University has published a report suggesting that the emphasis on “proficiency” on state exams may actually hinder progress for the nation’s most capable students. While school districts receive credit for raising the scores of lower students, they have no incentive to encourage their brightest. As reported in the educational journal, Education Week, the “proficiency” label is not very challenging. “We know the proficiency bar is set quite low in most states,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the vice president for national programs and policy at the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which produced a 2008 report pointing to lagging academic-improvement rates for top performers.” As one example, students who perform below goal on the Connecticut Mastery Test must receive remedial assistance. So school districts must provide resources to achieve the additional instruction. However, the only responsibility that schools have regarding gift and talented students is to “identify” them and send the report to the State Department of Education. They need not provide any services to these students, most of whom sit in heterogeneously grouped classes waiting for their less capable classmates to catch up. Does that ever happen? The recent findings “challenge policymakers’ hope that a rising tide would lift all boats. When a state narrowed gaps at the proficient level on state tests, the analysis showed, it didn’t necessarily follow that the gaps at the top were reduced as well.”
While school superintendents pat themselves on their backs for achieving a “proficiency status,” these capable students sit restless and bored and become less motivated to learn. Small wonder that parents of high achieving public school students who encounter their first real standardized test with national norms, such as the SSAT, SAT or ACT, are often stunned to discover that they achieve below the 50% mark. How could that be, when they’re consistently on the honor roll? Educators need to change their policies and paractices so that our educational system reaches all students.

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