Advanced Placement Accountabaloney

Florida prides itself in the number of Advanced Placement courses its high school students take. Is it too much of a good thing? Are decisions being made in the best interest of each student? If you live in Floriduh, you will not be surprised to learn that when you follow the money, you find a bunch of accountabaloney.

In February 2016, the Florida Department of Education celebrated Florida’s position   as  second in the nation for the percentage of 2015 Florida high school graduates taking an Advanced Placement (AP) exam while in high school and third place for the percentage of 2015 high school graduates potentially earning college credit by scoring a 3 or higher on an AP exam.

Other highlights included:

  • 57.7 percent of Florida 2015 graduates took an AP exam during high school, exceeding  the national average (37.3 percent)
  • Over the last decade, the number of Florida graduates participating in AP more than doubled, increasing from 40,276 students in 2005 to 86,400 students in 2015, an increase of 115 percent.
  • Florida ranks third in the nation for the percentage of 2015 graduates who potentially earned college credit by scoring a 3 or higher on AP exams (30.7 percent, higher than the national average of 22.4%).
  • Over time, increasing numbers of Hispanic, African American and low income students are taking and passing Advanced Placement courses/tests.

The increasing numbers of successful Advanced Placement participants is certainly the result of an accountability system that rewards participation in Advanced Placement Courses.

Beginning in 2010, Florida adjusted it’s school grade formula to reward (first) participation and (now) performance on Advanced Placement assessments. Currently, up to 10% of a High School’s grade is based on the percentage of graduates who earned a score on an acceleration examination (a level 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement exam), a “C” or better in a dual enrollment course, or earned an industry certification. For the purpose of calculating this rate, a student is counted no more than once in the numerator and denominator. Students who pass more than one AP course (or dual enrollment course or industry certification) do not earn any extra points in the school grade calculation.

The College Board, who created and administers Advanced Placement exams, has frequently reported that students who are successful in AP exams are more likely to graduate college. From Florida’s current school grades report, it appears that the current  system has been successful in providing at least some accelerated courses (either AP, IB, AICE, dual enrollment or industry certification) for all of Florida’s high school students.

If passing one AP exam is good, is passing more exams better? Anyone with a child in Florida’s high schools today knows that students are being pressured to take increasing numbers of AP courses, resulting in some students taking as many as 10, 15 or more AP courses during their high school career. How many is too many?

Jay Matthews, who covered college admissions for The Washington Post for more than two decades, wrote, in an article titled “Why We Wrongly Freak Out Over AP”:

“I have interviewed scores of college admissions officers and read the briefing materials of hundreds of colleges. Not one has ever said that adding an Advanced Placement class can make or break one’s chances of getting in.

Selective colleges want to see applicants take the most challenging courses at their high schools. In most cases, particularly in the Washington region, that means AP, International Baccalaureate or the Advanced International Certificate of Education. Selective colleges also like to see three to five AP courses, with good scores on the tests to show that the student is ready for college work. That can be accomplished by taking one AP course sophomore year, one or two in the junior year and one or two in the senior year — not an overwhelming burden for any student with a shot at a selective college.

Taking six, seven, eight or 20 AP courses will almost never make you more attractive to those colleges that reject more students than they accept. Your chances with them depend on your SAT or ACT scores, the depth of your extracurricular activities, the warmth of your teacher recommendations and your grade-point average compared with other students at your school applying to the same college.”

High School students, bogged down by excessive numbers of AP courses each year, may find little time to delve into extracurricular activities, participate in character building community service or, frankly, enjoy their life. While college admissions officers may recommend 4 or 5 AP classes TOTAL, in many Florida high schools it is not uncommon to find students taking 3 or 4 (or more) AP courses A YEAR. The stress of an excessive number of AP courses may be more than a high school student can, or should, be expected to handle as illustrated in this New York Times video Op-ed entitled “Advanced Pressure.”

Please take 5 minutes to watch this New York Times Op-Ed documentary, where filmmaker Vicki Abeles “features the stories of students and teachers of Advanced Placement classes and the pressures they face in our achievement-obsessed culture”:


“What are we doing to our kids when we put them through this system that doesn’t allow them get enough sleep and causes them to be ramped up and stressed out?” -Jay Chugh, Teacher, Lafayette, CA.

Once heralded as essential to a rigorous high school education, Advanced Placement courses are now being questioned as “too rigid” and even eliminated by elite private schools. John Tierney, writing for The Atlantic, suggests how, though they may have initially been developed with good intentions,  somewhere along the line AP courses appear to have become corrupted by corporate profits (at $89 per test, the College Board earns over half of all its revenues from its Advanced Placement program — more than all its other revenue streams (SATs, SAT subject tests, PSATs) combined). Mr. Tierney states that AP courses are NOT equivalent to college courses, that claims of saving money in college are overstated, and that the push to increase enrollment has resulted in students who are marginally prepared for the rigors of an AP course diluting the experience for students who might be well placed in such courses. His greatest criticism is the effect of the AP curriculum on creativity and free thought:

“To me, the most serious count against Advanced Placement courses is that the AP curriculum leads to rigid stultification — a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry. The courses cover too much material and do so too quickly and superficially. In short, AP courses are a forced march through a preordained subject, leaving no time for a high-school teacher to take her or his students down some path of mutual interest. The AP classroom is where intellectual curiosity goes to die.”

The death of intellectual curiosity should concern everyone. A recent article in Psychology Today, looked at the relationship of college grade point average (GPA) and creativity, noting an inverse relationship between students’ reported GPA and their orientation toward creative or innovative work.  The higher a student’s GPA, the lower was the students’ interest in innovation. In addition, the article sounded the alarm regarding the effect our current test focused education may have on future innovation: “In the United States, as our schools have moved increasingly toward an almost exclusive emphasis on test performance, creative thinking, objectively measured, has been declining at every grade level.”

Since the advent of No Child Left Behind, parents have become increasingly concerned with the loss of creative, authentic experiences in the classroom, pushed out by increasing levels of test preparation for high stakes standardized testing. Rather than developing “the whole child” with art, music and other creative programing, students are spending more and more time focused on and preparing for tests. In such an environment, should Advanced Placement courses be considered just more “teaching to the test”? Is that what our students need?

At the end of the “Advanced Pressure” documentary, high school teacher, Jay Chugh, suggests a solution: “The best thing to do would be to get rid of the AP program and just design a course that prepares students for the college experience.” Ahhh, such a system used to exist, and in some instances still does, and it was called “honors courses.” Of course, in Florida, students who pass honors courses do NOT count in the “College and Career Acceleration” category of the School Grading system. Also, if students abandoned AP courses for equal rigorous honors courses, the FLDOE might no longer have national bragging rights. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to returning to more honors classes in Florida’s public high schools, would be the lost incentive funding paid to the schools and teachers.

F.S. 1011.62 (n) provides financial incentives to schools depending on the numbers of level 3 and higher scores students earn on AP exams. For each student who earns a 3 or higher on an AP test, the district receives 0.16 of an FTE (Full time equivalent/per pupil spending). Currently this calculates to approximately $1,000 per successful AP score. If students are able to pass multiple AP tests each year, the amount can quickly add up.  Districts are required to allocate at least 80% of those funds to the high school whose student generated the funds. Teachers of Advanced Placement courses are also rewarded $50 for each of their students that pass the AP test with a score of 3 or higher, up to $2,000 per teacher each year.  Extra incentives are available for teachers in “D” or “F” schools, who will receive an additional $500 if just one student passes the AP test. [Similar financial incentives for schools offering International Baccalaureate programs/exams are outlined in F.S.1011.62(l).]

Last year, Monroe County increased the financial incentives for AP participation in their schools when it joined in partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative, another profit generating (net profit of $7 million in 2014) non-profit, which has the goal of increasing successful participation in specific STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and AP Literature courses. Despite concerns that the “STEM crisis” might be a myth, Monroe County School District entered into a 3 year, almost $2 million, contract with NMSI, who lists the College Board as a partner and “funder.” Everytime NMSI is successful in increasing participation in AP courses, its partner, College Board, increases revenue. In addition to providing aggressive (much needed Monroe County) professional development programs for AP instructors, the NMSI program rewards students, teachers and administrators for successful AP test scores. Such funds are in addition to the previously described FS 1011.62(n) bonus funding.

NMSI Awards and Incentives

Given these financial incentives, it is difficult to imagine that schools might scale back on AP courses in pursuit of a more balanced education experience for students. When administrators receive bonuses based on AP scores, will they work to increase dual enrollment or honors participation? Not likely. Monroe County AP teachers could earn more than  $6,500 annually if 30 of their AP students score a 3 or higher. Would these teachers be willing to give that up to teach an honors class?
Florida’s test based accountability system is designed to encourage participation in Advanced Placement and other acceleration programs. A 2009 OPPAGA Report (Report No. 09-12) showed the incentive funding for AP courses exceeded the required program costs by more than $30 million annually. With increasing AP enrollment and, therefore, increasing costs, the OPPAGA study recommended reducing the level of incentive funding, but little legislative action was taken.  The incentive programs and school grades system are to be designed to encourage (push) more and more students into AP courses, without regard to any potentially negative impact on the students’ unique education needs.
So when it comes to Advanced Placement in Florida’s high schools, the winners are:
  • The College Board, with profits of $62 MILLION annually.
  • The FLDOE, with national bragging rights regarding AP participation AND the ability to deflect attention from declining SAT and ACT scores.
  • Districts, high schools and teachers, who receive bonus funding.
  • National Math Science Initiative, ready to expand across the state.
The losers? Overstressed high school students, curiosity and innovation and those who value an authentic education experience.
Expensive programming that benefits everyone’s bottom line, while underserving the educational needs of the students, is more evidence of Florida’s failed accountability system. It is time to reign in the overemphasis of Advanced Placement coursework in our classrooms. Schools should be offering students the courses that best fit their individual interests and needs and not the courses that provide the biggest bonuses.

FEE Panel Agrees: Raising Proficiency Levels Demands Accountabaloney Pause

On January 4, 2016, Florida’s State Board of Education will be setting the cut-scores/determining proficiency levels for the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) that was administered in early spring 2015. The commissioner of Education has reviewed the cut-score levels determined by a panel of education experts, reviewed by a community “reactor panel” and presented to the public. At the last Board of Education meeting, she presented her recommendations, which raised the proficiency bar higher than the educators recommended but apparently not high enough to please several members of the board. On 12/4/2015, the BOE will meet for the last time before the cut score process is complete. You can find information regarding that meeting here.  One would expect the conversation regarding proficiency levels will come up. Will the Board be convinced to agree with the commissioner’s recommendations or will they push for higher achievement levels, resulting in lower passing rates for Florida’s students?

The question “Why Proficiency Matters” is currently a hot topic in reform circles. In this blog, we will attempt to get into the mind of a reformer and see the issue from their perspective. The best place to start is the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s (FEE’s) annual meeting.

On October 22, 2015, education reformers from around the nation converged on Denver, Colorado, for the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s 8th annual Education Summit. Strategy Session VII was focused on “The Proficiency Gap: Why It Matters for Your State.” This session was particularly timely for Florida because, less than a week later, its Board of Education members would be meeting to discuss determining the proficiency levels (or “cut scores”) for the new, 2015 Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). (You can watch Session VII here)

Members of the Florida Board of Education were present during this strategy session so I thought it might be interesting to try to view the session from their perspective, to try to understand what lessons they might have learned and how those lessons might influence the upcoming FSA cut score process. To do that, I am going to ask everyone to bear with me and, for the time being, put on a reformer hat. In doing so, I need you to accept a few basic assumptions. These are a few of the things that essentially all reformers, and most of the audience for this session, believe:

  1. The current standards (Common Core State Standards, Florida Standards, College and Career Ready standards, whatever you choose to call them) are developmentally appropriate, well constructed, internationally benchmarked (not just informed by international benchmarks), rigorous standards that will lead to better academic achievement by all students.
  2. The current state assessments are a high quality, effective and efficient way of determining whether students are on the path toward Career and College Readiness.
  3. The current assessments have been psychometrically evaluated and are fair, valid and reliable for all types of students, including Special Education and English Language Learners.
  4. Raising proficiency cut scores on a state assessment will lead to higher levels of academic performance.
  5. Reformers are on the right path and should not be distracted by naysayers. What reformers are doing is working and we can’t “go backward.”

The debate regarding all of the above will be left alone for the time being (I know it will be difficult; try your best).

Here is a recap of the highlights of “The Proficiency Gap: Why It Matters for Your State” from the 2015 FEE Education Summit:

Introductions were made by the moderator Dr. Christy Hovanetz, Senior Policy Fellow of Accountability, Foundation for Excellence in Education. She explained why she felt now was the right time to have the conversation about proficiency levels (because, having spent so much money on new standards, new tests, new curriculum and professional development, “it would all be for naught” if we didn’t raise the standards). She claimed the current “proficiency gap” (the difference between proficiency levels on state tests and proficiency level on “the Nation’s Report Card” or NAEP assessment) was a result of states not being honest with their students. The proficiency gap, she claimed, was really an “honesty gap”, a result of states, essentially, cheating the system, and it needed to be corrected.

The first panelist was Karen Nussle, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success.  She explained what the proficiency gap was and blamed it on politicians who wanted their state’s scores to “look good.” She explained “there were politicians in the mix, it was hard to be honest.” Ms. Nussle explained “The Collaborative” is a PR firm that could help share information about the honesty gap and she shared a very clever commercial they had produced to influence the FSA cut-score process in Florida, showing darling children saying things like “When I grow up I want a dead end, low wage job.”  Really, the kids are cute and the commercial is funny (I’m pretty sure I heard the distinct chuckle of one of Florida’s BOE members in the audience) and “The Collaborative” can help your state get similar commercials to lobby your Governor to influence the setting of cut scores beyond educators’ recommendations, because “parents deserve the truth.”

The second panelist was Alabama State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Tommy Bice.  Under Dr. Bice’s leadership, Alabama adopted standards 4 years ago, chose to assess students with the ACT Aspire and have raised their proficiency bar to eliminate the honesty gap.  He was present as an example of how the process could be done successfully.  He had lots of interesting things to say, so pay close attention.  During this transition  process he had spent a good deal of time developing relationships with Alabama’s 2 and 4 year colleges and with its business leaders.  He frequently asked them “What skill set is missing in Alabama high school graduates when you get them.”  The overwhelming response was kids graduating from Alabama high schools “lack intellectual curiosity.”  He was not surprised by this because “We have been preparing kids to take a meaningless test rather than to think, solve problems, think analytically and collaborate with peers.”

Dr Bice spent a good deal of time explaining why they chose the ACT Aspire, how they communicated the new expectations to parents and what preliminary growth data looked like.  He, also, shared what he felt was the key to Alabama’s success :

The biggest challenge… is providing this policy safe space in these first few years to not misuse assessment results.  We misused them for decades under No Child Left Behind, to rank and divide and conquer the haves and have nots, we need to use them and we need to use them instructionally to make sure we are improving the practice for our teachers, and improving the learning for our children but we want to be very careful and very protective that we don’t use them for policy agendas that don’t lend itselves (sic) to those things, at least in the first few years and then when we see what this really means to us, we can begin to guide some of the policy decisions that need to be made.”

He repeated that it was important, in Alabama, that they not “misuse these scores in the first few years until we can really see what that growth outcome needs to look like.” During a brief question period, Ms. Nussle pointed out that not everyone will be happy with the new, “more honest scores” but “we are really changing the system here and there is a transition period to that here and there needs to be public understanding of what that involves.” Dr. Bice agreed:

“That’s the most important message… it would be real easy to fall back into how we did it under No Child Left Behind, to put people on lists and rank and divide. We need to use this to really look at what we can do instructionally to move  children in a more accelerated rate to be college or career ready and you don’t do that in a policy environment that uses assessment scores in other ways.”

Next up was Scott Sargrad, Director for Standards and Accountability, Center for American Progress. He spoke about content standards and proficiency standards and explained how, back in 2009, “there was widespread agreement that proficiency standards, and content standards, were too low.” Since then, there has been a lot of work done to increase standards and proficiency expectations.  He explained how raising the proficiency bar can expose previously hidden achievement gaps, allowing more resources and supports to go to the schools that need them. He explained how teachers’ expectations have a significant impact on students. He, also, recognized “serious buy in” has to happen to prevent pushback when raising the proficiency bar. Then (at 31:40) he said:

One of the things that’s really important is… being patient with the scores and not trying to use them too soon.  So, when I was at the DOE, we offered states this flexibility to take a pause on using some of these new results for accountability purposes for schools, for teachers, while they are getting their feet under them. Now not every state took us up on that… but there is also value in taking a little break from the rating and the ranking of the schools and saying we’re going to keep making during the kids are going to get the supports and interventions they need but we’re going to see how these tests play out, we’re going to see how the growth plays out over 2 years, we’re going to see what that means for teachers, see what that means for school.”

Mr. Sargard concluded by noting that we will know whether this works if we see smaller gaps with NAEP (he was hoping to see this in the 2015 NAEP scores), lower remediation rates in college, higher college graduation rates and students getting good jobs after college… then we will know if we have been successful.

Cornelia Orr, former Executive Director of the National Assessment (NAEP) Governing Board, was the final speaker. She shared NAEP research, explained NAEP mapping to state assessments (which is not the same thing as matching percentages) and gave this advice:

“I think you should set your proficiency cut score at a level that will be challenging for students to reach…  My advice is that you use the proficiency level to communicate about student learning and that you use your accountability system to monitor your system and, if changes need to be made there, you do that in the accountability system, or the way that you use those scores, but you set your proficiency mark as high as you can because that is what communicates to students.”

In response to an audience question regarding fairness of these proficiency levels for older students who have not been exposed to Common Core during their entire school careers (from my own Monroe County School Board member, Captain Ed Davidson), Dr Bice reiterated:

What is important “in these first few years of implementation, rather than adjusting scores, is be careful on how we use them, is not use them especially at the upper grade levels as a high stakes, get out of high school sort of assessment, which I would adamantly oppose at this point and we don’t use those in that way in Alabama… we strictly use those to make instructional decisions, to make sure that we’re providing a curriculum and instruction that get kids more college and career ready. We don’t use them in any sort of punitive or any other way for students.”

The final audience question was from Florida BOE Vice Chair, John Padget. He felt this was a really great panel and he reiterated the need for honesty (possibly his question is a plant from the Foundation?). He claimed he has repeatedly seen students who have finished high school and are told when they show up at college “you are not college ready.” He wanted to know what can we do to be honest at an earlier point so students don’t face disappointment at that time. (Going to take off my reformer hat here for a moment to say: personally, I would suggest attending parent-teacher conferences and meeting with the high school counsellor, to get a good idea as to whether your child is on track for success in college… putting the hat back on now). Dr. Bice replied with  some comments about how community colleges actually make a lot of money providing remedial classes and there might be a financial incentive for them to recommend remediation.

Karen Nussle wanted to end on a positive note. According to her, the testing products are better than ever.  Millions of kids have taken the PARCC tests and we can compare data across states.  The tests are great and can only get better  Parents are going to get more information about their kids than ever before. The amount of data collected is fantastic. This is working and we have to keep at it. We need to stop allowing others to distract us from where we are going because this is working.

Lots of applause. Dinner will be served at 6.

Remember, you are still wearing your reformer hat.  As Mr. Padget said there was lots of great info here.  As Ms. Nussle said, we should focus on it and not allow ourselves to be distracted. In the end, there was little debate. All 5 experts seemed to agree on the issues and the main points of the session can be summed up:

  1. Raising the achievement bar to NAEP levels is something we all want.
  2. The key to Alabama’s success  was providing this policy safe space in these first few years to not misuse assessment results.
  3. Test scores should be used to make instructional decisions, ensuring students are provided a curriculum and instruction that will get them more college and career ready.
  4. Guard against using test scores for policy agendas that don’t lend themselves instructional improvements.
  5.  One of the things that’s really important is being patient with the scores and do not try to use them too soon.
  6. Use the proficiency level to communicate about student learning and use your accountability system to monitor your system and, if changes need to be made there, you do that in the accountability system, or the way that you use those scores.
  7. Do not use them, especially at the upper grade levels, as a high stakes, get out of high school sort of assessment.

So that summarizes the Foundation for Excellence’s panel discussion on “Why Proficiency Matters”.  Everyone was pretty much in agreement and Alabama was held out as the shining example of “how to do it right.”

You can take off your reformer hat now.

Fast forward a few days to the October 28, 2015, Florida Board of Education meeting in Orlando (you can watch public comments here). During public comments, Patricia Levesque, the extremely influential C.E.O. of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, advised the board to do two things:

  1. Proceed with the issuing of school grades based on the new FSA. Do NOT listen to the School Superintendents who are asking for a pause.
  2. Do “the right thing” and set “an honest cut score for children.”

So, Ms. Levesque suggested that Florida set a cut score aligned with NAEP scores (an “honest” one) AND issue school grades, in direct conflict with what essentially every Session VII panelist recommended. Why didn’t she listen to her own experts and recommend a pause in the use of test scores for anything except improving instruction during the transition period? Did she miss the strategy session just a few days earlier or does she disagree with its conclusions?

We recommend that Florida use the initial few years of the FSA administration as recommended by the FEE panelists and institute a policy free zone.  This may take the doing of the legislature and/or the Governor but, as Dr. Bice strongly recommended, it is necessary part of the process. A complete re-evaluation of the accountability system should be done.  Listen to the experts and use the FSA scores only to improve instruction. Eliminate the high stakes. With raised proficiency levels the cut scores will no longer reflect expected grade level performance. Do legislators intend to retain and remediate third graders who are reading at or above grade level? Should these tests be used as a high stakes, get out of high school sort of assessment? Does our Board and Department of Education really want our schools and teachers to continue to focus almost entirely on test scores for fear of punitive repercussions or should they use those test scores, as Dr. Bice strongly suggested, “to make instructional decisions, to make sure that we’re providing a curriculum and instruction that get kids more college and career ready”?

One final question: Why would Ms. Levesque advise the Florida Board of Education to do something that her entire panel of experts would disagree with?

Dr_Bice_LACK_intellectual curiosity

Is the Honesty Gap a Distraction?

On October 22, 2015, education reformers from around the nation converged on Denver, Colorado, for the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s 8th annual Education Summit. Strategy Session VII was focused on “The Proficiency Gap: Why It Matters for Your State.” This session was particularly timely for Florida because, less than a week later, its Board of Education members would be meeting to discuss determining the proficiency levels (or “cut scores”) for the new, 2015 Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). (You can watch Session VII here)

The moderator of the session was Dr. Christy Hovanetz, Senior Policy Fellow of Accountability, Foundation for Excellence in Education. She introduced why she felt it was the right time to have the conversation about proficiency levels (because, having spent so much money on new standards, new tests, new curriculum and professional development, “it would all be for naught” if we didn’t raise the standards). She claimed the current “proficiency gap” (the difference between proficiency levels on state tests and proficiency level on “the Nation’s Report Card” or NAEP assessment) was a result of states not being honest with their students. She suggested that, over the last decade, states had been lowering the proficiency bar, lowering the cut scores required to achieve proficiency on their state tests, in order to “achieve” the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) required by No Child Left Behind, which had required “all students be proficient by 2014”. The proficiency gap, she claimed, was really an “honesty gap”, a result of states, essentially, cheating the system, and it needed to be corrected.

Is the proficiency gap a result of manipulation of cut scores on states tests, as Dr. Hovanetz (and the rest of the Session VII panel) suggested? In Florida, at least, it appears not.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law in 2001. What was Florida’s “proficiency gap” in the early years of NCLB? If the panel’s suggestion that states deliberately lowered proficiency levels to achieve AYP is correct, than today’s proficiency gap should be greater than that of a decade ago. Historical data, however, shows this is just not true. The 4th grade “gaps” are essentially identical and while the gap for 8th grade reading is slightly larger (23 vs 18), the gap for 8th grade math is significantly smaller (20 vs 30).


2003 FCAT % level 3+ 2003 NAEP % above proficient 2003 proficiency gap 2013 FCAT% level 3+ 2013 NAEP % above proficient 2013 proficiency gap
Reading 4th 55 32 23 60 39 21
Reading 8th 45 27 18 56 33 23
Math 4th 51 31 20 61 41 20
Math 8th 53 23 30 51 31 20

2003 FCAT scores from

2003 NAEP results from

2013 proficiency gaps from

If cheating or dishonesty doesn’t explain the gap, what might?

  • NCLB required all states measure all students for grade level proficiency in Math and Reading. State tests were designed to determine if students were performing at grade level. The NAEP assessment, on the other hand, considers “proficiency” to be “solid academic performance for each grade assessed”. The gap might exist solely because NAEP never defined proficiency as “grade level proficiency” but rather something much more advanced.
  • Florida’s state assessment is a high stakes test where, sadly, entire school years focus on achieving high scores, to avoid retention and remediation, graduate high school, earn teacher bonuses and school grades. The NAEP test is a low (no?) stakes test. It is conceivable that at least part of the “honesty gap” is really an “effort gap” in that our test-weary children will surely “try harder” to score well on a high stakes exam. This alone could explain why more children score proficient on state assessments.

What the “honesty gap” really is a public relations campaign to encourage the raising of the bar to aspirationally high achievement levels. It is not an emergency or a sign of cheating. It is, likely, mostly caused by the fact that during the NCLB era, the goal was grade level performance, which, by definition, means average performance and NAEP always measured proficiency at a higher level. Now, the reformer’s stated goal is to eliminate need for college remediation and make all high school graduates “college and career ready”, a much higher achievement level, and reformers hope that NAEP proficiency levels will be an appropriate measure of that (to date, no one has any proof that current standards will make students more “College or Career Ready” but reformers hope they will).

The truth is, since 2001, NCLB required schools to focus on grade level proficiency and states used these test scores to inform parents as to whether their children were performing at or below grade level. Now, with the focus on “Career and College Readiness,” the state has to decide how to impart that information to parents.  Suggesting that states somehow created the “proficiency gap” by manipulating test data and “lowering expectations”, at least in Florida, appears to be inaccurate. Frankly, if Florida did manipulate cut scores to demonstrate false progress, it would have been done with the full knowledge and consent of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which heavily influences all education policy in Florida.

So, why are reformers, like Dr. Hovanetz, so focused on this “honesty gap”?  We believe reformers, by focusing on the contrived “honesty gap”, have created a false narrative that they are using to further their reform agenda, encouraging the raising of the bar on state assessments regardless of the potential impacts on students and schools. The honesty gap rhetoric creates an emergency situation requiring immediate action. In Florida, it appears the Board of Education will spend significantly more time discussing cut score placement for the FSA than they did evaluating whether the assessment was even valid, fair or reliable.  Nationally, the honesty gap narrative distracts from the obvious failures of the education reform movement: scores are declining on the ACT and SAT, respected college entrance exams, as well as scores on NAEP, itself. After more than a decade of test-focused education reforms, students are graduating from high school “lacking intellectual curiosity”. Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama State Superintendent, summed it up during the same proficiency panel discussion: “We have been preparing kids to take a meaningless test rather than to think, solve problems, think analytically or collaborate with peers.”

If reformers truly want to improve public education in America, we suggest they spend more time honestly evaluating the apparent shortcomings of their reform agenda and less time accusing others of dishonesty. We will be further addressing “Why Proficiency Matters” (or doesn’t) in upcoming blogs.  Stay tuned…