To the Editor:
I was pleased to see that the Dec. 14, 2011, issue contained a response by Cornelia Orr, a noted assessment expert who serves as the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, to my earlier Commentary (“NAEP’s Odd Definition of Proficiency,” October 26, 2011).
Ms. Orr properly corrects me for wrongly identifying a NAGB staff member as a board member. However, the remainder of her letter offers only a weak rebuttal of my main criticisms: NAGB uses the term “proficient” in a way that makes common understanding of the term meaningless. Congress insists that the National Assessment of Educational Progress benchmarks be interpreted with caution and used on a trial basis. NAGB has long needed to externally validate its benchmarks, a point which Ms. Orr essentially concedes.
I am pleased to see that NAEP has planned or mounted 30 studies to address the most recent criticisms.
Ms. Orr claims that I “specifically” said the “proficient level is set too high.” I did not say that. She argues that I’m in favor of lowering standards. On the contrary, as a significant contributor to “A Nation at Risk,” I have long supported the highest educational standards.
My criticism is that, according to NAGB’s own experts, students whom most people would consider proficient in a subject often fail to meet NAEP’s definition of proficiency. I worry also that NAEP’s contractors run the risk of comparing apples with oranges when they compare the achievement distribution of students in American schools (which enroll all low-income students and all students with disabilities) with achievement distributions in Asian nations and cities (which frequently exclude both demographics).
James J. Harvey
National Superintendents Roundtable
A version of this article appeared in the January 18, 2012 edition of Education Week as Author of Essay on NAEP Responds to Criticism