Before we get to the first event of our education Olympic competition, some background information is necessary by way of research and sources. We’ll call it our opening ceremonies.
For this competition, we are going to go back in time to 2012. It is the heyday of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which has been in place for a decade. The culture of using standardized test scores to measure public schools and student achievement has been vigorously established in our nation, which is stressing out students, causing teachers to pull their hair out and administrators to perspire profusely. Everything, it seems, depends on these tests. Schools are hungry for data, lots of data! Many important decisions are made based on that data, often while disregarding every other source of possible information. And so schools use various creative means to motivate students to perform their very best on these tests–like giving them juice to drink, snacks to eat, gum to chew, a movie to watch afterward and a party when it is all completed.
Admittedly, my representation of 2012 may be considered a little satirical, but I did live and work in education during the entire NCLB era and can tell you that over the years, I was witness to everything I described (not at Swan River). Also, I admit that data from 2012 may no longer be considered current, but the year 2012 is important because all the stars aligned–state, national and international testing–at about that time in order for for such a comparison to even be possible. I will explain.
At the state level, the MontCAS Criterion Referenced Assessment was used in Montana for many years to test student achievement in grades three through eight and also eleven, in the subjects of reading and math, with some grades also taking science–including 4th and 8th. As of a couple of years ago, the MontCAS was replaced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s test (SBAC).
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) provides data at the national level because every state takes the NAEP. The test was congressionally mandated, began in 1996, and its intended use is to aggregate data in order to measure educational progress by states over time and allow for comparisons to be made between states. It does not provide data about schools or individual students. It is administered every two years, and therefore also yields data from 2012.
There are three noteworthy international tests. The Progress in International Literacy Study (PIRLS) began in 2001, is administered every five years, was taken in 2011 by 35 nations and measures 4th grade reading achievement. The Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) began in 1995 and is administered every four years. It was also taken in 2011 and almost 60 nations participated. The test measures 4th and 8th grade achievement in math and science. Considered the most prestigious of the three, the Program for International Student Assessment (PIRLS) started in 2000 and is administered every three years. It was taken in 2012 by 65 nations and measures achievement in reading, math and science among 15 year old students–about one year beyond an 8th grader. These tests allow for comparisons in education and student achievement to be made among many nations in 4th and about 8th grade in reading, math, and science.
One more essential piece occurred in 2012 in order to help correlate all the international, national, and state test data. In addition to the USA participating in the international tests, a handful of individual US states participated on their own, as states, in the international assessments in 2011-2012 (Massachussetts, North Carolina and Florida). Because these three states participated in both international assessments and the national assessment, their test data can be used to cross reference and project how other individual states, like Montana, may have fared on international tests and might compare with other nations in the world.
As an acknowledgment, similar research was conducted by Kalispell School District, which inspired my research and presentation on this subject.