Goofus and Gallant on Goldstein!


Two angles into the world: We can’t help liking Kevin Drum, although we struggle to resist such reactions here on our sprawling campus.

That said, we chuckled when we read Drum’s post about Dana Goldstein’s epic fail concerning Atlanta’s NAEP scores.

In this case, we played the thundering Goofus to Drum’s annoyed and harrumphing Gallant. That said, after taking a look at the record, Drum provides some data which we withheld:
DRUM (4/3/13): A quick look tells me that reading scores for black 8th graders increased from 233 to 249 during Hall's tenure, and math scores increased from 241 to 262. That's no defense of Hall, but it seems pretty straightforward to figure out how Atlanta's kids did and how that compares to other big cities.
Those are big score gains; they're substantially larger than the gains recorded by black kids nationwide. That said, we’d still like to see some “education reporter” interview NAEP officials about the best way to interpret gains of that size.

That will happen about the time the Greenland ice cap slides into the sea. Which is to say, maybe next year!

Kidding aside, let’s hit one last point about those Atlanta NAEP scores:

It seems that Atlanta really did have a massive cheating culture. This makes it a perfect laboratory for an important question—is there any way to cheat on the NAEP?

In the past few years, we have occasionally noted that state and big-city superintendents now have an incentive to cheat on the NAEP, an incentive that never existed before. The NAEP used to be a research tool, nothing else. Now, the NAEP is widely discussed in the public sphere, though only in ways which suggest that our schools are depressingly bad.

Presumably, good scores on the NAEP could now help a super’s career! Bad NAEP scores could do harm!

As a matter of theory, there is one obvious way a superintendent could cheat on the NAEP. The NAEP tests representative samples of students from each state and from participating big-city school districts. If the superintendent can fiddle around with those samples of students, he or she could drive up a system’s NAEP scores.

Two years ago, Governor Perdue seems to have said that he was suspicious about the way Atlanta’s student samples had been gathered. Did he know what he was talking about?

Two years later, no one has tried to find out—or at least, Dana Goldstein hasn’t. (It’s possible that this has been discussed in Atlanta’s press.)

Here’s more good news:

Given the way our “press corps” works, no one ever will check this out! It won't occur to our "educational experts," or to our "education reporters."

Our gatekeepers simply don't play it that way! It will be 2060 before this idea enters some poor shlub’s head.


  1. Why wouldn't scores on a given test increase when teachers' jobs depend on them even if there is no cheating? What real knowledge do we have of the effects of teaching to tests? I must assume either the effect or the knowledge of it is nil, since no discussion of test results ever corrects for it. Shouldn't this (among a few other things) have been investigated before the nation committed to a regime of standardized testing?

    Aside from the risk to their jobs, emphasis on standardized testing probably makes it easier for teachers, since coaching students to do well on specific test is probably a lot easier than real teaching.

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