Honesty is best policy as Georgia learns fewer than 40 percent of kids on track in reading, math

Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio are president and vice president, respectively, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and fathers of school-aged children.

In this essay, they urge Georgia to stay the course with its higher standards despite new statewide test results showing the majority of students are not proficient.

failingReaction to the Georgia Milestones scores last week was muted as individual district, school and student scores were not provided; they will come in October. And so likely will a more vocal public response once people see how their own schools and kids fared.

As the AJC reported:

“These results show a lower level of student proficiency than Georgians are used to seeing, but that does not mean Georgia students know less or that teachers are not doing a great job, ” state schools Superintendent Richard Woods said. “It means they’ve been asked to clear a higher bar.”

The old Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and high school End of Course Tests “set some of the lowest expectations for student proficiency in the nation,” said Woods, who took office in January.

The preliminary results released Thursday were statewide averages by grade and subject that divided students into four levels of performance, from failing to “distinguished.” Some expect a push back from parents when the actual student scores are delivered in October.

“There’ll be a little bit of a backlash for sure because we need someone to blame, ” said Lisa-Marie Haygood, a Cherokee County parent and Georgia’s new state PTA president. “I think you’re going to feel a knee-jerk reaction immediately.”

Haygood applauded the higher test expectations. “It’s not fair to tell people they’re great if they’re just OK,” she said. “It’s going to be a better measure of where we are.”

Georgia felt pressure to raise its standards because its testing system routinely ranked at, or near the bottom, for rigor.

With that background, here is the column.

By Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio

Five long years ago, Georgia and more than 40 other states adopted tough new standards in reading and math, setting dramatically higher expectations for students in elementary and secondary schools. Now we’ve reached a critical milestone in this effort, as the public just got to see for the first time the scores on the new tests aligned to the standards. The news was sobering.

Fewer than 40 percent of Georgia’s students are on track in reading and math. Though the scores may come as a shock to many, let us explain why people shouldn’t shoot the messenger.

First it’s important to remember why so many states started down this path in the first place. Under federal law, every state must test children every year in grades three through eight and once in high school to ensure they are making progress. That’s a good idea. Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning, and taxpayers are entitled to know if the money we spend on schools is being used wisely.

But it is left to states to define what it means to be “proficient.” Unfortunately, most states, including Georgia, set a very low bar. They “juked the stats.” As late as 2013, Georgia was reporting that virtually all of its fourth graders were “proficient” in reading, whereas a national assessment put the number at less than thirty percent. That was an enormous “honesty gap”—among the largest in the country.

The result was a comforting illusion that most children were on track to succeed in college, carve out satisfying careers, and stand on their own two feet. To put it plainly, it was a lie. Imagine being told year after year that you’re doing just fine, only to find out when you apply for college or a job, that you’re simply not as prepared as you need to be.

Such experiences were not isolated cases. Every year, more than half of Georgia’s students entering the state’s public colleges must take “remedial” courses when they arrive on campus. Many of those students will leave without a degree, or any kind of credential. That’s a lousy way to start one’s adult life.

The most important step to fixing this problem is to ensure our children are ready for the next grade, and when they turn 18, for college or work. Several national studies, including analyses of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, show that just 35 to 40 percent of high school graduates leave our education system at the “college prepared” level. Considering that 20 percent of our children don’t even make it to graduation day, that means that maybe a third of our kids nationally are getting to that college-ready mark. (Not coincidentally, about a third of young people today complete a four-year college degree.)

The new standards should help to boost college readiness — and college completion — by significantly raising expectations, starting in kindergarten. But we shouldn’t be surprised that Georgia found that less than forty percent of its students are “on track” for college. In fact, that’s what we should expect. Parents, in other words, are finally learning the truth.

This is a big shift, but a necessary one, from the Lake Wobegon days, when, like in Garrison Keillor’s fictional town, all the children were above average. Parents and taxpayers should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the new standards or the associated tests. They may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators, and taxpayers a much more honest assessment of how our children are doing. Virtually all kids aspire to go to college and prepare for a satisfying career. Now, at last, we know if they’re on track to do so.

 

Reader Comments 0

62 comments
Tcope
Tcope

Children need to learn to the highest level that they can achieve. Each child has a different capacity be educated. Our present system lumps them all together in grade levels. Until we alter our education system to reflect this induvidualism, we will continue to face these political battles arguing about which system is superior. 

BKendall
BKendall

ACT and SAT results have been telling us this for decades. You were not told the truth by Main Stream Media. Even they may not have known the truth.

0.545956706342
0.545956706342

My question...will the people who told these untruths...for years...go to jail?

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

The question is, what's going to happen to all the children who aren't yet proficient?  


Will they all be held back?  Will they receive meaningful remediation to help them catch up?


Some of us have known for years that the GaDOE was lying when they said most of these children were proficient.  Admitting it is a first step, but what is going to be DONE about it??

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@ScienceTeacher671 

First step is for Georgia's DOE to recognize and acknowledge that each child must be taught where he is functioning, k - 12.  Then, students will grow and improve, and -  voila! - scores will improve, as well.


If you never diagnose a problem correctly, you can never solve it.

 

class80olddog
class80olddog

What good are standards when they are never enforced?

class80olddog
class80olddog

If you are honest, you will expose the great social promotion lie.

bu2
bu2

Is GDOE being totally honest?  Can't get their website to respond on the AJC link to the actual results.

Press releases don't tell you a whole lot.

eulb
eulb

@bu2  Try this link:  http://tinyurl.com/nkzf9ry  If it works, a prompt will ask whether you want to open a powerpoint file.  When you click OK, the test results should appear.

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

Why be honest when the parents don't want honesty?  Parents know what they want to know.  No data or research is going to change their opinion of how wonderful their child is and how brilliant they are.  If the kids aren't learning, it's not their fault nor the fault of their child.  It is the teachers and the schools.  It's a simple as that!

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

How are the old CRCT and the new Georgia Milestones the same?

CRCT results always offered the state and local education agencies a basis and rational for moving onto never ending journeys of continual improvement.  For Atlanta Pubic Schools, CRCT results always offered understanding “urban school reform” was causing the district great damage.

The Georgia Milestones will offer the same, except now for APS some manner of quick-fix “school turnaround” schemes adopted from proposals by The Boston Consulting Group coupled with a “child-centered OSD plan” will cause the district even greater damage.  APS will be pushed over the brink, never to be able to recover, and never to be able to move onto a journey of continual improvement.

Improvement simply means a system having changed in a way that it did something better today than yesterday (however long “today” and “yesterday” may be).  Continual improvement simply means experiencing improvement sufficiently more often than not.  Continuous improvement simply means doing whatever it takes to never fail, which usually includes incentives, rewards, and punishments hence faking and cheating and “cooking the books” and “juking the stats.”  The seductive nature of “continuous improvement” allowed many folks to stand idly by and even cheer all the while APS was being driven into the greatest test cheating crisis in U.S. history.

So having switched to the Georgia Milestones will prove meaningful only if this time results become a basis and rational for moving onto never ending journeys of continual improvement.  Otherwise the Georgia Milestones will simply trigger angst and fear and trepidation within students and among parents, needlessly.

As it stands, it seems the harder, tougher Georgia Milestones effectively covers up state leaders’ possible embarrassment stemming from the state consistently being stuck at or near the bottom of NAEP proficiency equivalences. And instead of acknowledging that, our state leaders’ would rather push blame down onto the children and spend, spend on a new battery of harder, tougher standardized tests.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

...rationale... not ...rational...

 

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Some of the problem in the schools is the attitude that a kids intelligence can be measured and his or her future can be predicted by a few standardized tests.  What the assessment shows is how the child compares to standardized scores set by the testing company -- which standards usually are pretty accurate.   The proper response is to get the kid to work harder.


The problem over the past 30 years has been that we've come to judge a kid's potential at an early age by the assessment results.


More recent findings indicate that educational achievement has less to do with inherited intelligence than the effects of individual study habits and environment over time.  For example, the frequency and tone with which parents interact verbally with their children results in the child of a middle class household hearing millions more words and a far high percentage of encouraging words that a child raised in a poor household, with a consequences on achievement in kindergarten and the early grades.


Most people are born with roughly the same level of intellectual potential.  Whether they progress, adequately, depends on their micro-environment, temperament and the amount of effort put into studying.  A good book to read on this is "Intelligence and How to Get It" by Richard E. Nisbett, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan. 2009  W.W. Norton


My guess is that if we worked more on a) getting parents to improve their child-rearing habits, b) put more emphasis on assisting teachers in maintaining orderly classrooms and c) found ways to drive up the amount and quality of out-of-classroom study, we'd get much more educational progress than by the current mono-focus on creating super-teachers through crude financial incentives.  





AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

I can see it now - we are going to have steady improvement in the pass rates for our Georgia-specific/only Common Core proficiency exams.  That's the whole point of making your own test; you can set pass marks as you see fit without worrying about measuring up to students in those pesky other states.

Now, if only we could establish GASATs and GA-ACTs, ALL our educational problems would be solved.

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

It might be helpful over the long run if students taking the Compass test to place in college level or remedial courses were also given an idea of what grade level they measured up to in the assessment.  


High school graduates who tested into GAs lesser schools as having no more than a 10th grade level of achievement in math or reading would pass that back to their high schools, triggering many conversations that need to be had.


Right now, the entire testing establishment, which includes the Compass people, does a spectacular job at masking the bottom line of "This is where you stand at this point."   Actually tell a kid the blunt truth?  Perish the thought.



straker
straker

redweather - "under-performing public schools"


No, see, the real problem is so many of these students NOT graduating and then turning to a life on the streets and THEN blaming white racism for their problems.

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @straker 

" @straker I spent a Saturday a few weeks ago working at a Habitat for Humanity build site in downtown Atlanta near the Pittsburgh neighborhood."

One question:

Were you tired and exhausted at the end of the day?

redweather
redweather

@straker I spent a Saturday a few weeks ago working at a Habitat for Humanity build site in downtown Atlanta near the Pittsburgh neighborhood.  It was like visiting another world, or maybe a war zone is more like it.  The only other white people I saw all day long were volunteers like me. The idea that young people growing up in those circumstances are going to be able to rise above their environment and perform well in school is ludicrous. This isn't about blaming white people. This is about the fact that a significant portion of our urban population is doomed from birth. And all of this within a few blocks of Turner Field.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

Keep 'em ignorant, that way they can't get a job and WE (Democrats) will get their vote BECAUSE we give them everything.  The democratic party encourages illegal immigration because some day those ILLEGALS might be able to vote and who are they going to vote for?  The same for ARCHOR BABIES, In coming years, that's a vote for sure.


I know, it's hard to look and see our Great Country being destroyed from within by the very people who swore to uphold and protect the Laws Of Our Land.  Folks, they're not doing it and we're partly to blame by electing them.  Vote carefully in the next election, it might be our last chance.

Falcaints
Falcaints

Lets just blame the teachers, makes it easy.

straker
straker

redweather - "the long-standing consequences of institutionalized racism"


Or, you can stop being a professional victim and start taking personal responsibility for your life and the decisions you make.

redweather
redweather

@straker As was pointed out in a recent column, "Where students live and which schools they attend tell us virtually everything we need to know when it comes to predicting college success. This country’s economically disadvantaged are typically educationally disadvantaged as well.  Under-performing public schools turn out a disproportionate number of America’s marginally educated students."

straker
straker

"the most important step to fixing this problem"


This has been a problem for many long years in Georgia.


I wonder how many "fixes" have been tried and failed?


Blaming racism is starting to be "beating a dead horse".

redweather
redweather

@straker You can wish away the long-standing consequences of insitutionalized racism, but the consequences probably won't go away.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@straker 

It is difficult for some to think in terms of learning by process, over time, rather than by immediate rigid solutions, as a math problem might be solved.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @straker 

It's even more difficult for some to grasp the fact that hollering "racism" as a verb,adjective,epithet and standard greeting is losing it's ability to persuade.It's the standard refrain of the hustler,the con man and the jacklegs that use it to obtain and retain power.

GB101
GB101

@redweather @straker Institutional racism means you can't identify any actual racist practices or behavior but you still want to excuse certain things and blame white people

redweather
redweather

@GB101 @redweather @straker Since this is an education blog, I thought it would make sense to post a link to the Board of Regents, just as an example of what I mean by institutional racism. The link provides information on the current members of that institution. But the pictures speak a thousand words.


http://www.usg.edu/regents/members

gactzn2
gactzn2

@straker This is actually a more recent issue.  It truly was not the case a few decades (2) ago.

GB101
GB101

The headline says that honesty is called for, yet there is no mention of race.


Keep ignoring the elephant in the room and keep pretending that the problem is in the schools and not in the home.  That is not what I call honesty.

redweather
redweather

@GB101 To stay with your animal metaphor, why keep beating a dead horse? Racism, which is alive and well in America, continues to explain much about the achievement gap.

PJ25
PJ25

@GB101 When 4 out of 10 black kids aren't graduation HS in GA and they are roughly 33% of the population, it's going to have a very negative effect on scoring and rankings.  Period. 

GB101
GB101

@redweather @GB101  Do you think that the achievement gap should be covered in a report like this.  Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe black children do poorly because white people are mean to them, not because they get no support at home. In any case, the fact the white and blacks have different levels of achievement is newsworthy. 

GB101
GB101

@Outer Marker @GB101 Yep.   Simple arithmetic.  And another point is this: what if the achievement gap existed only in Ga ,or only in the South, or only in states with Republican governors.  Then it would make sense to seek an answer in the schools.  What are we doing wrong that others are doing right?  


Problem is, the gap exists EVERYWHERE.  That glaring fact speaks volumes.  But the AJC can't hear no matter what the volume

redweather
redweather

"Under federal law, every state must test children every year in grades three through eight and once in high school to ensure they are making progress. That’s a good idea."


All depends on the tests, no?  

BertisEDowns
BertisEDowns

Maybe Georgia should try this: R.I. adults took a standardized test, and they didn’t like it


http://wapo.st/1JP3PN0

In Providence, R.I. on Saturday, several dozen state legislators, city officials, professors and others sat down for several hours at a library to take a standardized test that was created from actual questions off of the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP.

Why did they do it? The Providence Student Union, a high school student advocacy group, persuaded several dozen high-powered adults to take the test as part of their protest against a new state requirement that high school seniors must reach a certain level of proficiency on the exam to graduate — even though the test wasn’t designed for this purpose. It wasn’t even designed for the assessment of individual students.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@BertisEDowns 

You should report the results! "The Providence Journal interviewed many of the adults after they took the test and it reported that most of them thought they flunked. Results will be made available Tuesday. Some said the test included “trick” questions."  These were adult legislators, professors, and so on.


I would looove to see Georgia's state legislators take such a test.