June 11, 2007

National Standards as Policy Machismo

Alexander Russo and I agree on National (Yawn) Standards (Again) (his title), regarding last week's CEP report on state proficiency percentage trends and the NCES comparison of state proficiency cut-scores and NAEP cut-scores and also the double-report week's politics. In a different way, I also agree with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in her dissing of national standards. Same (in a yet third way) with the Education Sector's Danny Rosenthal. And I disagree with all of them.

Russo is right on the politics of national standards: dead for now. He's at his best in pegging the accountability politics, and since that's his focus in the last few weeks, I'll give him a pass for now on where I disagree with him. Spellings is right that the federal government does a better job of collecting data than telling the states what to do. She's wrong that the federal government does a better job of telling the states what to do when it's labeled NCLB. Rosenthal is correct that there is a difference between setting curriculum standards and setting cut scores. He's wrong in asserting that the cut scores are what is important.

The cut-score debate would be a silly one except for the stakes involved in states and the way that cut scores frame the education policy debate inside the Washington, D.C., beltway. As anyone who has taken elementary statistics should know, the division of an interval scale into several tiers creates an ordinal scale. Whether one labels the tiers Expert, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic; Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, and Blue; or Venti, Grande, and Tall, tying values to ordinal tiers doesn't tell us anything about the tiers themselves other than that someone wanted to label them.

Confusing cut scores with rigor is an act of policy machismo, not common sense. "Yo Mama's so wimpy, she's satisfied with Mississippi's cut scores."

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on June 11, 2007 8:20 PM |