by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Next week, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction will release state test results for the 2013-14 school year. Last year’s results cannot be compared to the 2012-13 scores because the N.C. State Board of Education moved from four achievement levels in 2012-13 to five achievement levels in 2013-14. In both cases, a Level III score is considered proficient, but the scale is different. A student who was considered proficient in 2014 may not have been in 2013, for example.
The bottom line is that you cannot compare proficiency rates over the last two years. In a webinar held earlier this week, a DPI official pointed out that this year’s scores “stand on their own,” and there will be no effort to covert the 2014 scores to the 2013 scale (or vice versa) for comparison purposes. At least that was what we were told.
So ignore headlines that declare that scores “improved” or “declined” compared to last year, even if they acknowledge the change in achievement levels. Yes, I’m talking to you Statesville Record & Landmark and all other editors and reporters that will cover the release of state and local test results. I know the temptation to make comparisons is great, but your duty to report the facts accurately should be greater.
The following is a list of suggested headlines based loosely on the discussion above:
“Achievement level change means test scores stand on their own”
“X percent of students proficient, how that compares to past years is a mystery”
“Constant change in testing standards suggests need for new testing program”
“Hey DPI, get the heck out of the testing business already”
“NC DPI tests reflect state of accountability in ‘Murica”
“Changes to N.C. tests – déjà vu all over again”
“State tests + changes = more confusion”
“Inability to compare test scores irks Locke education analyst”
“Without meaningful, year-to-year comparisons, test scores virtually worthless”
“What’s the deal, DPI?”
“Seriously, you have GOT to be kidding me”
(Note: An earlier version mistakenly identified the DPI official as Rebecca Garland.)