Friday, October 2, 2015

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #231 – October 1, 2015

Dear Friends,

Achieve President Michael Cohen played a nasty trick on the Indiana education system Tuesday and then left the state. He left behind a headline featured in a Fox 59 article entitled “Experts say Indiana students aren’t as smart as they’ve been led to believe,” which contained the following information:

“Recently Achieve looked at test results in all 50 states and compared them against the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card.
In Indiana, experts found one of the largest gaps in the nation between what ISTEP deemed proficient compared to national standards.

“What I told legislators is they’re basically misleading students and parents about their performance,” Cohen said. “They’re telling them they’re proficient when in all likelihood they’re not very well prepared to learn the material at the next grade level, nor are they prepared for success in post-secondary education.”

These are tough charges by Dr. Cohen, but his bashing of Indiana education results, and presumably those of other states, is misleading and inappropriate. Here is what he left out of his remarks to the legislators:
  • He didn’t tell legislators that “Proficient” on the National Assessment is not the same thing as “Passing” on ISTEP. The numbers he cited for ISTEP are “Passing” percentages.
  • He didn’t tell legislators that a careful definition of “Passing” is developed by the committees that guide the Indiana cut scores, and it is not the same as the definition of “Proficient” developed by the NAEP governing board.
  • He didn’t tell legislators that National Assessment has another standard called “Basic” that better matches the “Passing” definition and is more commonly used to describe how a state is doing.
  • He didn’t tell legislators that Indiana scores on the National Assessment are above the US national average on both the “Proficient” standard and the “Basic” standard at both grade levels.
A truly fair and balanced table of results would look like this, in place of Dr. Cohen’s table above:

Clearly, the basic standard fits closer to the definition of passing ISTEP in Indiana.

Education expert Diane Ravitch, in article entitled “The Myth of Charter Schools”, has called this interpretation of NAEP data a “distortion”:

“I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years… The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B. The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade.”

Dr. Cohen is not the first to attempt to elevate NAEP “Proficient” scores from their current “A/B” to a level that all students are expected to pass. Governor Daniels, in his 2011 State of the State address, in pushing his voucher proposal to give public money to private schools, said: “The brute facts persist: only one in three of our children can pass the national math or reading exam.” Without explaining, he was talking about the NAEP proficient scores, using them to demean our school progress in the historic 2011 debate to begin to privatize public education with vouchers.

Dr. Cohen cherry picked only part of the data, did not even mention the Basic standard, and failed to tell our legislators that Indiana NAEP scores are above the national average on both the Proficient and the Basic standard. He has tried to turn a positive story of Indiana’s strong and improving performance on NAEP since 1990 into a negative. While he accuses Indiana educators of misleading students and parents, his omission of the context of NAEP is misleading our legislators and our state leaders.

Of course, everyone is trying to raise Indiana’s standards and improve our performance. That is happening in a steady manner, as documented in the attached report. Debates over our progress should include the full context of the data.

The entire record of Indiana’s performance and improvement on the National Assessment since 1990 can be seen on Table 6 (p. 8) of the attached report about improvement in Indiana schools. ISTEP data is detailed in Tables 7 and 8.

Thanks for your advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!

ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.

Our lobbyist Joel Hand continues to represent ICPE during the interim study committee meetings in September and October. Our work in support of public education in the Statehouse goes on. We welcome additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.


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