Opinion
Education Opinion

Friday Guest Column: What’s “Good” About Meeting Student Achievement Standards?

February 15, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“Mission Smarts” is Jason Cascarino, Manager of Program Investments for The Chicago Public Education Fund. The opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

Sometimes professional becomes personal. Which leads me to one of my more personal columns in this series. As a new father, the issues in education I am challenged with daily in my work have begun to hit home. As I sit behind my desk, my mental space now has the backdrop of a little boy one day galloping off to Lincoln Elementary School three blocks from our house in Oak Park, Illinois.
A while back, I read with great interest a front-page article in The Wednesday Journal, our community weekly, with the exclamatory headline that Oak Park School District 97 “meets state standards.” Here’s the quick summary: in 2007 85.0 percent, 88.1 percent, and 86.4 percent of students met or exceeded state standards on the Illinois state standardized exam, the ISAT, for reading, math, and science respectively. The subtitle, “ISAT scores show mixed results for black students” effectively captured an important contraindication of success for this moderately diverse, reasonably affluent close suburb of Chicago.

But as worrisome as that subhead might be, a more basic storyline was missing entirely. It generally is reporting studenting on achievement data, regardless of community. Namely, is “meeting” state standards “good?”

Having just moved to Oak Park and my son being still an infant, I actually know far less about our local public schools than I know about those in the City of Chicago where I work in the business of school reform. Like Oak Park, the city has reported positive gains in student achievement over the last few years, as measured by scores on the ISAT. And also like Oak Park, and like all other school districts in the country as required by No Child Left Behind, the Chicago Public Schools publishes the percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards. These standards are set by the state and are designed to demonstrate the point at which students are “proficient” in the core subjects of math, reading, and science.

The problem lies with where that bar is set. I’ve had numerous conversations with my peers working in education in various capacities throughout Chicago and it is commonly understood that meeting Illinois state proficiency standards is not sufficient for students to be successful in life - well prepared for higher education and/or the workforce!

Students need to be exceed these baseline school accountability standards to have a good shot at long-term academic and life success. The Consortium on Chicago School Research, the city’s premier education research institute associated with the University of Chicago, has begun to publish data bearing this out. Meanwhile, this nascent and behind-the-scenes sentiment got a public articulation recently in the form of a study released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute called “The Proficiency Illusion.”

Unfortunately, according to the study, Illinois’s standards for proficiency on the ISAT rank toward the bottom among the 26 states profiled in the report. The report provides a good deal of detail behind this assertion, but the critical summary point reads: “most of Illinois’s definitions of proficiency in reading and mathematics are lower than those of most of the other 25 states in this study. In other words, Illinois’s tests are below average in terms of difficulty, especially in math.” It goes on to note that the level of difficulty of Illinois exams has actually declined dramatically in the past few years.

In Chicago, if you separate the percent of students who exceed standards from the percent who just meet standards, you’ll find the former to be a dramatically lower number. Now, the point is NOT to say how terribly underperforming Chicago students are. Rather, it is to demonstrate that when a district or newspaper reports a large percentage of students meet a standard without noting the level of difficulty or ease in meeting that standard it can skew public - including parent, perceptions that students are performing at levels predictive of long-term academic and life success when they are not.

District 97, which will eventually educate my son, is not being dishonest. I have no specific bone to pick, just a broad comment to make. It is simply this: Are we the residents, parents and concerned citizens of any school district being intellectually honest in understanding and interpreting student achievement data and rigorously assessing whether it tells us something “good”? After all, testing and accountability are not just things that happen to the “under-performing.” They matter in our back yard too. It is, and should be, personal.

The opinions expressed in edbizbuzz are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP