Another day, another fight in the education world. This one is worth delving into because it is really not about who said what but about fundamental understandings — and misunderstandings — of standardized testing data and how it drives policy.
This one started when education activist Campbell Brown said that two-thirds of U.S. eighth graders are below grade level in reading and math. Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor and teacher who researches student achievement, then tweeted that he has never seen data showing that, and asked Brown to explain her sourcing. She said that she was referring to proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
NAEP, as the test is known, is sometimes referred to as “the nation’s report card” because it is seen as the most consistent measure of U.S. student achievement since the 1990s. It is administered every two years to groups of U.S. students in the fourth and eighth grades, and less frequently to high school students. When Loveless told her that NAEP proficiency scores do not refer to grade level, a social media fight ensued between Campbell and her critics.
In this post, Carol Burris, a former award-winning high school principal who got involved in the Twitter exchange, explains why the substance of this debate matters.
I asked Brown to comment about her statement that two out of three eighth graders cannot read or do math at grade level and why she thinks NAEP proficiency means grade level. She said in an emailed response, which you can see in full below, that “if I were trying to be completely and utterly precise then I would have specified ‘grade-level proficiency,’ instead of ‘grade level’ in the context of NAEP score,” and that “any reasonable person or parent” would understand what she meant.
By Carol Burris
“Two out of three eighth graders in this country cannot read or do math at grade level. We are not preparing our kids for what the future holds.”
The above was the lead message that Slate used to introduce education activist Campbell Brown’s “advice for the next president” video that it posted. The claim is false.
When Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank in Washington D.C., asked Brown to retract her assertion, an angry, and sometimes amusing, series of Twitter posts and blogs began. Loveless is a former teacher and Harvard professor who is an expert on school reform and student achievement.
Brown’s resistance to correct the record and her dismissal of Loveless’ request is a story worth telling. It speaks to the problems that arise when advocacy is demanded due to philanthropic funding of a news website, and it speaks to how rhetoric drives the reform agenda, while dismissing any critique as an attack.
Brown was a journalist for years with NBC News and an anchorwoman for CNN, and for a time, had her own series for CNN, entitled “No Bias, No Bull.” The show was canceled in 2010, and Brown reemerged in 2014 speaking out in favor of charter schools and against teacher tenure.