State testing results have no meaning

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

The people of Nebraska have been duped. Royally duped. The way they have been misled is through the statewide testing of students. Last week, when writing test results were announced throughout the state, it was widely assumed that all schools and all students were being held to the same standards. And, so, when it was reported that some schools scored 97 -- and some even made it to a perfect 100 -- readers and listeners were in awe of the schools' phenomenal achievements. But, as Paul Harvey would say, there's more to the story. According to an editorial in the Omaha World-Herald, "Nebraska, unlike 48 other states, has no uniform statewide tests ..." Instead, the World-Herald reports, "the state has developed an arrangement whereby each of the state's more than 500 districts is left to score student achievement as it sees fit."

In other words, there's no way of knowing for sure if schools are doing a great job, in comparison to other schools, or whether the schools are scoring well because they are using easier testing and scoring methods. Dennis Berry, the principal at McCook Junior High and Central Elementary, gets directly to the point when he says, "The system Nebraska has for assessment is not valid nor reliable ... It cannot be used to compare students, school districts or buildings within a district." Why is this? Why would such a system be put in place? It's all about money. By coming up with what the World-Herald calls an "oddball" assessment system, the state is eligible for federal funds for education. That's no small amount, as federal funds account for about 8 percent of what is spent annually for K-12 education in Nebraska.

The way it stands now statewide testing results should not be released, nor reported. They serve no comparative purpose. If the state is going to continue with testing, it should switch to the standardized national testing system. Those exams have strict guidelines, with the same questions asked at prescribed times in prescribed formats. The way it is now, Nebraska schools are spending a lot of time and a lot of money so the state can qualify for federal funds. There is some value for local school districts, where teachers can study results to see how individual students are doing, and where the local curriculum may need adjusting. But, on a state basis, it's ludicrous to compare scores from different schools using different testing and scoring methods.

The Nebraska Department of Education needs to take action to solve this problem. The state needs strict, standardized testing, and if the education agency can't get something done about it, the Nebraska Legislature needs to intervene. As it stands now, statewide testing is a sham and of very limited comparative value.

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