…and much to the detriment of millions of students who have spent most of their school years slogging through it.

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From the National Education Policy Center:

NAEPscuses: Making Sense of Excuse-Making from the No-Excuses Contingent

BOULDER, CO (October 28, 2015) – This morning’s release of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports a dip in scores, according to multiple sources. These lower grades on the Nation’s Report Card are not good news for anyone, but they are particularly bad news for those who have been vigorously advocating for “no excuses” approaches — standards-based testing and accountability policies like No Child Left Behind. Such policies follow a predictable logic: (a) schools are failing; and (b) schools will quickly and somewhat miraculously improve if we implement a high-stakes regime that makes educators responsible for increasing students’ test scores.

To be sure, the sampling approach used by NAEP and the lack of student-level data prohibit direct causal inferences about specific policies. Although such causal claims are made all the time, they are not warranted. It is not legitimate to point to a favored policy in Massachusetts and validly claim that this policy caused that state to do well, or to a disfavored policy in West Virginia and claim that it caused that state to do poorly.

However, as Dr. Bill Mathis and I explained eight months ago in an NEPC Policy Memo, it is possible to validly assert, based in part on NAEP trends, that the promises of education’s test-driven reformers over the past couple decades have been unfulfilled. The potpourri of education “reform” policy has not moved the needle—even though reformers, from Bush to Duncan, repeatedly assured us that it would.

This is the tragedy. It has distracted policymakers’ attention away from the extensive research showing that, in a very meaningful way, achievement is caused by opportunities to learn. It has diverted them from the truth that the achievement gap is caused by the opportunity gap. Those advocating for today’s policies have pushed policymakers to disregard the reality that the opportunity gap arises more from out-of-school factors than inside-of-school factors.

Instead, they assured us that success was a simple matter of adults looking beyond crumbling buildings and looking away from the real-life challenges of living with racism or poverty. As a substitute, we were told to look toward a “no excuses” expectation for all children. This mantra has driven policy for an entire generation of students. The mantra was so powerful that we as a nation were able to ignore the facts and fail to provide our children with opportunities to learn.

So schools with low test scores were labeled “failing” and were shut down or reconstituted or turned over to private operators of charter schools. Voucher and neovoucher policies pulled students out of “failing schools” (again, those with low test scores) and moved them to private schools. Teachers whose students’ test scores didn’t meet targets were publicly shamed or denied pay or even dismissed. Our entire public schooling structure became intensely focused on increasing test scores.

But once we admit that those test scores are driven overwhelmingly by students’ poverty- and racism-related experiences outside of school, then “failing” schools are little more than schools enrolling the children in the communities that we as a society have failed.

In the face of the mounting evidence that “reform” policies have come up short, what are advocates saying now? The first sign came a week ago, when Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, heard rumors about lower NAEP scores andpre-emptively announced that the dip was likely caused by the recession triggered by the 2008 financial crisis. (He neglected to mention that this crisis was due to the same sort of deregulatory policies promoted for education by Fordham and similar advocates.) We must, he tells us, “acknowledge the strong link between students’ socioeconomic status and their academic achievement.” In short, he gave the same “excuse” that “no-excuses” reformers have condemned year after year.

To read the memo in full, go to the NAEP website.

Submitted by Dora Taylor