Education Opinion

No Wonder Test Results Disappoint

By Walt Gardner — December 07, 2016 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Let’s see if I get it: Each state is allowed to establish its own standards, but all students are given the same standardized test. Then when the results fail to confirm that students are being well taught, there is anger (“Common Confusion,” Education Next, Winter 2017).

But the outcomes are entirely predictable. Consider the PSAT and SAT. Students who have been getting lofty grades so often perform poorly on both. Parents are shocked, and students are crushed. How can that possibly be?

There are several explanations. The PSAT and SAT are not aligned with the standards that all states have established. Yes, there is some connection but not enough. The Common Core standards were developed in part to ensure that no matter where students live they would all be learning similar material. If so, then the results of tests like the PSAT and SAT would likely be reason to celebrate.

But the Common Core is under attack, with its future in serious doubt. I understand the appeal of local control of education. But as long as it exists, there will always be huge gaps between standardized test scores and classroom grades. I don’t think it’s possible to have it both ways under the present system.

Consider also the results of the latest Program for International Student Assessment (“U.S. now ranks near the bottom among 35 industrialized nations in math,” The Hechinger Report, Dec. 6). For the second consecutive year, math scores fell. The only consolation was that reading and science scores remained flat. The lackluster math performance also reflected the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), on which 4th and 8th graders also did worse in math.

I never taught math, but I believe there is much to be said for a national math curriculum. The highest performing nations in math on PISA and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) structure their math curriculum uniformly. They teach topics in a sequential order. But in the U.S. there is fierce opposition to anything that infringes on local control of education, not only in math but in all other subjects as well. If we care about rankings on tests of international competition - and maybe we really don’t - we cannot allow each state to continue to do its own thing and expect to see our rankings rise.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check 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.