Some experts have worried that the federal No Child Left Behind Act will spur states to lower their standards so that more schools meet annual performance targets—and they’re pointing to Missouri as proof.
The Missouri board of education approved new standards for its state tests last month that should result in more students scoring “proficient” and “advanced” at some grade levels this year. Committees of educators and citizens developed the unanimously approved guidelines.
Commissioner of Education D. Kent King recommended the changes—the first since the tests became mandatory for all public schools in 1998—calling them “both rigorous and reasonable.”
But not everyone agrees.
“It’s a classic example of the kind of dumbing-down pressures” evident in education, said J. Martin Rochester, a distinguished teaching professor of political science at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. “The state tests have been pretty rigorous … and basically the educators have decided that’s too high.”
The Show Me State revised its performance standards, in part, because it has added tests in additional grades and subjects this year to comply with the federal act.
The law requires states to administer reading and mathematics tests in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school starting this school year. Until now, Missouri has tested math in grades 4, 8, and 10; and reading/ communication arts in grades 3, 7, and 11.
In addition, a 2004 state law required state education officials to align the Missouri Assessment Program more closely with the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated testing program.
The new standards are intended to ensure that at least 40 percent of students score at least at the proficient level.
“My worry is that if we’ve changed the level of proficiency just to make school districts, including my own, look better, that’s kind of a false sense of accomplishment,” said Robert E. Bartman, the superintendent of the 2,400-student Center No. 58 School District, and a former state schools chief.