Atkinson: Test score drop reflects “continued education cuts…”

According to the News & Observer, State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson argued, “I do believe that these [test score] drops reflect the continued education cuts we’ve had to make the past few years.”

A few thoughts on the claim:

1. If Atkinson is going to make this argument, she needs to show a causal link between funding and student performance.  Let’s put her hypothesis to the test.

2. Graduation rates increased last year.  So, do education cuts over the past few years also produce higher graduation rates? Moreover, what does this say about graduation standards if pass rates decline but graduation rates rise?

3. There was a seven percentage point increase between the 08-09 and 09-10 school year, despite budget cuts, but…

4. As I examine the trends over the last four years, the 09-10 percentage looks like an exception or outlier.  The 10-11 rate of 81.4 percent is slightly higher than the 08-09 rate of 80.9 percent and slightly lower than the 07-08 rate of 82.1 percent.  In other words, the percentage of school meeting or exceeding expectations on state tests has hovered around the 80 percent mark for three of the last four years.  So, I do not make much of this year’s decrease.

5. I cannot emphasize this enough – The Republicans passed their budget AFTER students took state tests.

6. Curiously, Democrats are both celebrating and lamenting these results.  For example, the News & Observer reports,

Atkinson said state officials are concerned that fewer schools met growth goals this year. She said funding cuts are the culprit, pointing to how class sizes have risen as schools have had to make do with less in the past few years.

“I do believe that these drops reflect the continued education cuts we’ve had to make the past few years,” Atkinson said.

Democratic leaders had cited figures such as the state’s rising graduation rate to argue that North Carolina’s education system was working, despite criticism from Republican lawmakers who have pushed for various alternatives including expanding charter schools, merit pay for teachers and some limited vouchers for private schools.

“There are people who are beating up our schools,” Harrison said today after the results were released. “We need to celebrate the great things that are happening.”

It is hard to reconcile the Atkinson and Harrison passages, particularly in the context of budget reductions.  So, which one is it?  Success or failure?

Terry Stoops / Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies

Terry Stoops is the Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the Locke Foundation, he worked as the progra...

Reader Comments