A Fake Woodsheding: Spellings Spins Her Own Performance

It's pretty easy to figure out from how public the USDE made it (and the fact that it was scheduled during the week of the state education heads conference) that the meeting between Secty Spellings and the testing company heads wasn't primarily about substance but about perception -- not just of testing, but of Spellings herself.

Testing fiascos aside, Spellings is slowly but surely getting a reputation for the watering-down of NCLB that she's undertaken for the past year. She knows that the puff pieces everyone has written about her (you know who you are) won't stand up forever. So now with this faux woodshed meeting with the testing industry, last week's "shocked, shocked" response to the AYP loophole scandal, and the belated review of state teacher qualification reports), she's trying to look a little tough.

What would it look like if anyone really got tough with the testing industry? Oversight hearings, with subpoenas and sworn testimony. Anything short of that is pretty much curiosity-seeking or, like this meeting, mere showboating.


Anonymous Bob said...

This meeting recalled for me a meeting that took place nearly 20 years ago. In late 1987, a physician from West Virginia caused a bit of a splash by releasing a hand-made report showing that nearly every state and many big cities reported that their kids performed above average on standardized tetss. The physician, John Jacob Cannell, claimed that the finding was evidence of cheating, but test publishers said it reflected the fact that the comparisons were to a norm group who may have taken the test seven years before.

Anyway, a few weeks later Checker Finn, who was then assistant secretary, called publishers and some leading psychometricians to a meeting in his office. Unlike the Spellings meeting, this one was not just window dressing. Finn commissioned a study to replicate the findings of the Cannell study, and agreed to produce a consumer guide on testing. The replication study, by Bob Linn and others, found that the above average scores were mostly right, but concluded that they resulted from outdated norms and some teaching to the test. The consumer guide, if it ever got released, does not seem to have made much of a difference.

I have long believed, and Checker apparently agrees, that the Cannell study and Linn's confirmation of it helped usher in the standards movement by casting doubt on the validity of norm-referenced tests. Checker's meeting with the publishers was an important element of that process. It brought to light a serious problem, legitimized it, and resulted in action. He wasn't just jumping in front of a parade.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous o/b/o checker finn said...

That´s fairly accurate but neglects to note Bill Bennett´s key role in all this.

After Cannell´s report came out Bennett demanded to know whether it was correct and the efforts we then made to find out owed largely to his pushing.

11:24 AM  

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