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Campbell’s Law

Every year my high school principal and I would meet to look at our state test results.  And every year we’d say the same thing:  What kind of valid and reliable testing waits to see the scores before deciding the cut-off points?  In fact, we mused, each year we look better and better because the cut-off points are a moving target.  And each year the Commissioner trills about the great progress we’re all making under his leadership.

The most interesting tests were those given at eighth grade.  Scores in the elementary school rose steadily ever year.  Then, at eighth grade, they took a nosedive.  Ever year.  But as luck would have it, students recovered enough for a nearly 100% passing rate every single year on the English regents in 11th grade.  It was indeed amazing.

Testing  State and national leadership rarely ask the folks in the trenches how they think things are going, but the fact that New York’s and other states’ testing results are now deemed suspicious will come as no real surprise to teachers and administrators.  When NCLB proclaimed that all students would be proficient by 2014, the only thing to do was to change the definition of “proficient.”  It’s Campbell’s Law:  “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

As Sol Stern points out in “City,” the problem is that states under NCLB developed their own tests and scoring systems.  And students in many states showed improvement on their respective states tests.  But when the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered tests to a statistically valid sample of students in each state, far fewer students were deemed proficient.

Anyway, New York State’s testing program will now have to submit to an outside audit.  I’m looking forward to seeing the results.  Maybe my principal and I were on to something.





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