A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: Day 11

This is the 11th of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Reason 11:  Perpetuating the Myth of Teacher Failure Part 1: The Achievement Gap

My last post debunked the myth of American failure on standardized tests over the past forty years by showing how scores on the NAEP have been improving though there are still disparities between white and non-white students.  Today I begin to describe how standardized test scores have been used to perpetuate the Myth of American Teacher Failure (MATF) by taking a closer look at that achievement gap between white and non-white students over the past few decades.

I must begin by clearly stating that I am not arguing that American schools are perfect or beyond reproach.  The achievement gap that I described in my previous post does exist and equity between white and non-white students needs to be a continued focus.  That said, American schools have made significant gains in closing the achievement gap over the past few decades, though you’d never know it if you listened to corporate reformers, the media, or politicians – essentially those who have something to gain from the MATF.

If you take a look at scores on the NAEP over the past four decades you’ll see that they are undoubtedly trending upward.  What you will also notice is that the scores of non-white students are trending even more steeply upward.

4th Grade Math


8th Grade Math

4th Grade Reading
4th Reading

8th Grade Reading
8th Reading

This chart makes the “achievement gap” a little easier to wrap your head around:

Long-term decrease in NAEP Score Gap 1973-2011
Long-term decrease in NAEP Score Gap 1973-2011

This chart tells us that the gap between white and Black students has decreased between 7 and 18 points and the the gap between white and Hispanic students has decreased between 3 and 24 points depending on subject and grade level. The largest improvement has happened at the grade 8 level in reading and the grade 4 level in mathematics, and the data from the last two decades is even better.

NAEP achievement gap changes since 1990
NAEP achievement gap changes since 1990

Since 1990 the achievement gap has decreased the most between white and black students in reading and mathematics at the 4th grade level and between white and Hispanic students at the 8th grade level for reading. There are double-digit decreases in the achievement gap across subjects and grade levels, with reading at the 12th grade level as the only area in which the gap has grown since 1992.

So, why is all of this a reason to opt out of standardized tests? Because test scores continue to have limited value to teachers and parents, but almost limitless value to those who use them to perpetuate the MATF. And in the case of the achievement gap between white and non-white students it is working. How do I know? Well, when we surveyed 1,047 Americans and asked them if they thought this achievement gap had increased, decreased or stayed the same over the past 40 years, only 29% got it right. Some might argue that the answer to this problem is to educate those who are mistaken. However, when we put education up against the resources, power and influence of those who profit from the MATF, education doesn’t stand a chance. So I may not be able to stop the MATF, but I sure won’t allow my children to take the tests that help contribute to it.

For next time: Perpetuating the Myth of Teacher Failure Part 2: The Poverty Gap