Jeff Bryant, Campaign for America's Future -Just prior to the November election, an article in the education trade journal Education Week broke that Kentucky had gotten bad news back from its most recent round of school tests. The results were that the percent of students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math had dropped by roughly a third or more in both elementary and middle schools.
Disappointing results from a state test is not usually an occasion to stop the presses. But, in this case it was, because these were Very Special Tests.
The tests Kentucky children took were brand-new and aligned to new standards promoted by the federal government called Common Core Standards. Kentucky is the very first state to implement the new standards-based assessments, which will be rolled-out in over 40 other states over the next two school years.
Kentucky school officials, who were already bracing for the bad results, tried putting a happy face on it, calling results “better than we thought they’d be.”
But local media outlets were quick to claim that lower scores were proof positive that Kentucky public schools are “in need of improvement.”
Now imagine the scenario when what happened in Kentucky begins rolling out across the country — as state after state implements the bright, shiny new tests and watches in horror as scores drop off “The Proficiency Cliff.” How tempting it will be for major media outlets across the country to cast this as a “crisis” in education?
In fact, some people are betting good money on that happening.
This past summer, about 100 private equity investors gathered at the posh University Club in New York City to hear about big money-making opportunities on the horizon.
As reported in Huffington Post, Rob Lytle of The Parthenon Group, a “strategic advisor of choice for CEOs and business leaders worldwide” according to its website, was there to reveal the ripening profit potentials in the public education arena — a $500+ billion market – due to the roll-out of new assessments aligned to the Common Core.
According to the reporter, Lytle told the audience, if the tests are “as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.”
Recall that states were strongly urged to adopt the new standards when they applied for the U.S.Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant program and for waivers to the onerous No Child Left Behind mandates. Now 46 states are implementing the standards and at least one form or another of the tests that are aligned to the standards. The intent of the standards and tests is to ensure that students are on a pathway to becoming “career and college ready” by the time they graduate high school.
Lytle regaled his investor friends with how the new tests would identify the “performance gaps” in student achievement where results fall far below what’s considered “proficient.” And once the performance gaps are unveiled to the world, the resulting pressure will force school officials into hiring outside product and service providers to bring up the scores.
“experts” in charge of education policy have a credibility gap?