“There are too many tests.” “The tests aren’t a fair gauge of students, their teachers or their schools.” “The tests are racially biased.” “Some children just don’t test well.”
Those complaints and excuses — and others — are commonplace whenever test scores come out that show the state or individual schools and districts doing poorly.
But when the results are good, my how Mississippi loves tests.
The state’s education leaders have been slapping themselves on the back in justifiable pride over the results on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, the one group of tests that individual states can’t skew to make themselves look better than they are.
Mississippi has drawn positive national attention for its performance this year on the NAEP, which is given to a sampling of fourth and eighth graders in every state every other year. Not only did Mississippi post some of the highest gains in the country, but the state has completely closed the gap — at least in fourth grade — with the rest of the nation. For the first time ever, Mississippi’s fourth graders scored higher than the nation’s public school average in mathematics and tied the national average in reading.
“Thank goodness for Mississippi” has taken on a new meaning, writes Glen V. East, the school superintendent in Gulfport, in a gushing op-ed column this week. Instead of the phrase being used to disparage the state for being perpetually at the bottom of educational rankings, it is now being used to say Mississippi is a model that other states can follow in trying to raise their academic achievement.
That’s a nice feeling, but it needs to be underscored that all these accolades are based on test scores.
If you think they are a valid measurement of success, they are also a valid measurement of failure. They may not be a perfect gauge of student learning, but they are the most objective one we have.