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Now Scoring for Global Competition: Education Catches Up With Basketball

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Following is a post from guest blogger Susan Weston, a Kentucky education consultant who often works with the Prichard Committee:

New York state is now confronting the lower student proficiency rates that come from higher test expectations. It's a learning process Kentucky faced in 2012 and that many other states will face soon, as they, too, move to tests that reflect Common Core State Standards.

For everyone trying to understand the lower scores, here's an explanation that comes naturally from the basketball-loving Bluegrass.

Suppose a state spent years reporting on how many free-throws the average student made successfully...into a hoop five feet off the ground.

Then suppose that state switched to reporting free-throw success aiming for an NCAA regulation rim 10 feet above the court.

Would the free-throw results plummet? Of course they would.

Would that show that the kids had declining athletic skills? Of course not.

That's what basically what just happened to New York assessment results. Last year's reports measured success against an easy definition of proficiency. This year's reports measure against tougher proficiency cut points.

Here's a follow-up question: do the 2013 students have weaker skills than the kids tested in the past?

True answer: We don't know. When you switch to a different measurement system, you can't do direct comparisons from old to new. The National Assessment of Educational Progress will give us some evidence of gains and losses eventually, but it will be a while before we see those NAEP results.

Here's another question: do this year's scores mean that past results were wrong?

First answer: No. Earlier scores accurately reflected earlier scoring rules and earlier definitions of proficiency, and this year's results look weaker because students are rated against stronger requirements. There's no basis to think cheating or willful dishonesty are part of this story.

Second answer: The earlier, easier definitions of proficiency were too easy. They lulled us to into believing that most kids had the skills they needed for adult success. In reality, nearly all American students need to step up their game. They need to master richer level of literacy and deeper levels of mathematical fluency, so that they can leave high school ready for further education and future employment. The old standards weren't false and the old scores didn't reflect cheating--but they did create a misleading impression that most students were ready, or nearly ready, for global competition.

Common Core State Standards and the tests that measure them take a helpfully frank approach. They tell us truthfully that most students need to move up to a significantly higher level of work. They start with an honest look at the game of twenty-first-century life and what our kids will need to play that game well.

On core academics, New York is now letting students, parents, teachers, and communities see more clearly what they will need for future success. That's a good thing. It's an important and exciting thing even if the first results are painful to see. At long last, we're inviting our children--all our children--to play varsity ball.

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