Usually, my questions end the discussion because no specific answers are forthcoming.
Let’s use some data from Pennsylvania, an average performance state according to NAEP.
Let’s look at the results from PA’s 11th grade PSSA exam (2005).
As a preliminary matter, let’s establish that the PSSA is a valid test of student performance. PA takes their testing seriously and has conducted numerous analyses to determine the validity of their test. Those studies can be found here. Here’s another independent evaluation done by Achieve, Inc.
According to the evaluations, the PSSA correlates nicely with such respected measures of performance such as the CTBS, TerraNova, SAT-9, and SAT. One consistent complaint made by the evaluators is that the PSSA lacks rigor, especially at the 11th grade level. See pages 33-35 and 50-52 of the Achieve evaluation.
The math portion of the test contains 66 questions. A student needs to have answer 31 of those questions correctly to score at the basic level, not to be confused with the proficient level. This does not mean that the student needs to know the answer to 33 questions. Because the questions are multiple choice, a student only needs to know the answer to 20 of those questions. By filling in the rest of the bubbles at random, the student will on average receive credit for 11 additional correct answers. So, to score at the basic level a student only needed to know 30% of the answers on a low rigor test. Worse than that, according to Achieve Inc., 26% of the questions on the exam (almost the same amount the basic student needs to know) were at the lowest level of cognitive demand (Items require the recall of information such as a fact, definition, term or simple procedure.). Yet despite this low level of rigor and low cut score, 33% of PA 11th graders could not meet this threshold of performance. This does not include all the students who have already dropped out by the 11th grade.
The analysis for the reading portion is similar. A student only needs to 54% of the questions to score at the basic level. 27% of students couldn’t do this. According to achieve 81% of the test questions fall within the lowest level of cognitive ability.
If we look at all the high schools in PA we find 665 schools with reported PSSA scores for the 11th grade. 25% of those schools have 40% or more of their students performing at the “below basic” level. That seems to me to be an unconscionably large number. The data for all these schools are readily obtainable at schoolmatters. Hopefully, this’ll be enough data for Mike to show a small taste of the utter failure that permeates our schools. Let’s see if Mike can spin the data.