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NAEP and John White’s Computer-Based-Testing Hypocrisy

April 10, 2018

Concerned about the low NAEP scores he saw prior to public release, Louisiana state superintendent John White petitioned the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) regarding bias against students who lack experience with taking computerized tests and how such inexperience might reflect disproportionately on certain states.

Below is an excerpt from White’s letter to NCES– an excerpt which represents his primary concern regarding Louisiana’s 2017 NAEP scores:

…No Louisiana student in 4th grade or 8th grade had ever been required to take a state assessment via a computer or tablet as of the 2017 NAEP administration. This fact, coupled with a variety of social indicators that may correspond with low levels of technology access or skill, may mean that computer usage or skill among Louisiana students, or students in any state, is not equivalent to computer skills in the national population.

I would like to be assured, as soon as possible, that when NCES reports math and reading results on a state-by-state basis over a two-year interval, the results and trends reported at the state level reflect an evaluation of reading and math skill rather than an evaluation of technology skill.

NAEP scores for 2017 were publicly released on April 10, 2018, and indeed, Louisiana’s 2017 NAEP scores were embarrassingly low; here is how Will Sentell of the Advocate opens his article on Louisiana’s 2017 NAEP scores:

In the latest snapshot of education achievement, scores for Louisiana public school fourth-graders plunged to or near the bottom of the nation in reading and math.

In addition, eighth-graders finished 50th among the states and the District of Columbia in math and 48th in reading.

The exams, which sparked controversy this time, are called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

Math, reading and other results make up what organizers call the nation’s report card.

In 2015, fourth-graders finished 43rd in the U. S. in reading and 45th in math.

But both scores dropped five points – to 212 and 229 out of 500 respectively – during tests administered to 2,700 students last  year.

That means fourth-grade math scores finished 51st while fourth-grade reading scores are 49th.

The group that oversees the exams, the National Center for Education Statistics, said both drops are statistically significant.

The results were also at odds with other states, where most scores were unchanged from 2015 in both subjects and both grades.

State Superintendent of Education John White, as he did on Friday, renewed his view that this year’s scores were affected by the fact the exams were done online for the first time.

And so White did. Below is what he told Wilborn Nobles of nola.com:

“According to the NAEP, the gaps between high-performing students and low-performing students in Louisiana and nationally are growing, and there will be speculation as to whether or not that is a real change in reading and math skills (or) whether that has to do with the change to online technology,” White said.

White is apparently concerned about drops in 2017 NAEP being due to students’ unfamiliarity with taking the tests online.

However, in April 2017, when LaSalle Parish math teacher, Herb Bassett, asked White about a similar situation associated with Louisiana’s school letter grades, White readily brushed aside such concerns.

Below is Bassett’s question and White’s corresponding answer, as captured in this document from Bassett and this response document from White, respectively:

Bassett: …What accommodations will be made or what revision process will be implemented to adjust for the shift in achievement level distribution that likely will accompany the transition to computer-based tests from paper-and-pencil based tests this year (for K-8 students)?

White: All students in grades five and above are transitioning from paper assessments to online assessments, as have been used in high school for a decade. Some districts have already made the shift to online testing in elementary/middle school grades without a significant impact on results. Additionally, all districts have had many years to prepare for the transition. Thus, no major impact on results is expected.

Ultimately, the Department’s objective is not to create a particular distribution of
results, but rather to build a fair and honest accountability system that holds students and schools to the same high expectations as anywhere else in the country. A core component of that system is expecting students to use computers, as is required for all adults and children in the 21st century.

In light of White’s computer concerns related to Louisiana’s low 2017 NAEP scores (which reflect poorly on him), let’s examine part of White’s casual, sorry-no-adjustment response to Bassett once again:

Some districts have already made the shift to online testing in elementary/middle school grades without a significant impact on results. Additionally, all districts have had many years to prepare for the transition. Thus, no major impact on results is expected.

Let’s go for more:

Ultimately, the Department’s objective is not to create a particular distribution of results, but rather to build a fair and honest accountability system that holds students and schools to the same high expectations as anywhere else in the country. 

And let’s polish it off:

A core component of that system is expecting students to use computers, as is required for all adults and children in the 21st century.

There you go, John White: A live-with-it answer drafted a year ago by your own hand.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

5 Comments
  1. Maybe he should get the boot? #accountability

    • Christine Langhoff permalink

      #accountability is only for the little people. (Revised Leona Helmsley)

    • I haven’t noticed that these TFA/Broadie types ever get the boot: just a switch to yet another district ripe for invading.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider: John White, Hypocrite | Diane Ravitch's blog

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