Discrepancies in Testing

Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S. - New York Times
A comparison of state test results against the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test mandated by the No Child Left Behind law, shows that wide discrepancies between the state and federal findings were commonplace.

In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on state reading tests, while only 18 percent of fourth graders demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Alaska, Texas and more than a dozen other states all showed students doing far better on their own reading and math tests than on the federal one.

Of course, one possibile 'explanation' is that tests ultimately measure only one thing, which is the ability of the student to take that particular test. With ability to take tests in general coming a distant second. Actual level of skill, knowledge and/or aptitude are only hinted at, partly because it is very difficult to determine what counts as an example of the deeper faculties and partly because it is too easy to simply teach towards a test, in which case a high score could indicate a narrowness of knowledge rather than its general breadth.

Other educators and experts give different reasons for the discrepancy between state and federal test results. A Standard & Poor's report this fall listed many reasons for such differences, among them that the National Assessment is a no-stakes test, while low scores on state tests lead to sanctions against schools.

The report noted that the National Assessment is given to a sampling of students, whereas schools administer state tests to nearly all students. The tests serve different purposes, with the federal one giving policy makers a snapshot of student performance across the nation, while state tests provide data about individual performance. Because of these differences, some state officials say it is unfair to compare the test results.

But the report by Standard & Poor's, which has a division that analyzes educational data, also noted some states' tests are just easier.

These could of course be more immediately valid reasons for the discrepancies but their validity doesn't necessarily invalidate my more general point about testing.