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Here Goes another Myth about National Standards: Research Finds Little Evidence of Expectations Gap

22 September 2009 8,774 No Comment

With the release of the official public draft of the college- and career-readiness standards in English-language arts and mathematics by the NGA and CCSSO’s yesterday (September 21, 2009), the U.S. is moving closer to national standards. Incidentally I read a study published in a recent issue of the American Educational Research Journal (AERJ) that expels the other myth that has been used to support national common standards.

Proponents of national common standards have basically used two myths to support their efforts: the international achievement gap and the domestic achievement gap. I have written in my book and blog posts to show that there is no international evidence to show that national standards help improve academic achievement or make a nation more competitive. I have also discussed extensively in my book about the domestic achievement gap—that is the gap between different groups of students. The AERJ article provides further evidence.

Supporters of national common standards have argued that common standards are needed to close the domestic achievement gap because there is an expectations gap, that is, different groups of students are held to different performance standards. The AERA article says that is not entirely true.

The article, entitled Is There an Expectations Gap? Educational Federalism and the Demographic Distribution of Proficiency Cut Scores, reports findings of a study that investigated whether “some groups systematically face higher or lower proficiency cut scores.” “Using a newly devised metric that allows for interstate comparison of state-level proficiency cut-scores, along with aggregated district-level demographic data,” Douglas S. Reed, an associate professor of Georgetown University, analyzed the distribution of proficiency standards across different demographic groups. And the result, according to the author,

The primary finding presented here—that the expectations gap, while real, is relatively small—recasts this debate over ratcheting up of systems-level proficiency expectations and academic achievement. Compared to the achievement gap, the expectations gap is both much smaller and much less consistent. There is only a negligible eighth-grade Black-White expectations gap. The median Hispanic student faces a higher proficiency cut score than the median White student. Yet both Black and Hispanic students achieve at much lower levels than the median White student. Even when there is something of a Black-White expectations gap, it does not approach the size of the Black-White achievement gap…It becomes clear that other factors besides divergent proficiency standards are driving the continued existence of the achievement gap. (p. 736).

He continues:

Those who argue that reducing Black-White achievement gap requires raising systems-level proficiency expectations for African American students can only point to modest evidence that African American students systematically confront definitions of proficiency lower than the definitions of proficiency confronting White students. (p.736).

Thus, he suggests:

Taking proficiency standards out of the policy discussion of Black-White test score gap enables us to devote greater attention to other issues that may be more important determinants of the gap….the ratcheting up of systems expectations most likely will only harm students at risk if they are imposed in a punitive, high-stakes fashion. (p. 736-737)

If you want to read more, here is the reference:

Reed, Douglas S. (2009). Is There an Expectations Gap? Educational Federalism and the Demographic Distribution of Proficiency Cut Scores. American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 781-742.

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