To the Editor:
In his Commentary “How to Fix No Child Left Behind” (May 13, 2009), Gary W. Phillips argues for a voluntary national test that would allow parents, educators, and policymakers to gauge how the achievement results of one school compare with those of another. Given Mr. Phillips’ previous position as the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, I was intrigued by the absence of any reference in his essay to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
NAEP was designed to provide such results at the national, regional, state, and even sometimes district levels. Equally important, it currently enables comparisons with state assessment results. The pertinent question Mr. Phillips could have posed is what accounts for the consistent differences in state-level results when NAEP and state assessments are viewed side by side.
When we fully understand why these differences exist, we may have a better foundation for fixing what is not working in the states. We don’t need another national test, but we do need to take NAEP results more seriously and coax states away from lowering their standards to look good in comparisons. Cosmetics can’t hide the fact that in many states, students simply aren’t being taught the right content or the right way. A new voluntary national test isn’t going to fix this.
Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
A version of this article appeared in the June 10, 2009 edition of Education Week as In National-Test Proposal, Why No Mention of NAEP?