Ravitch Unraveling: A Gold Standard Abandoned

As a pundit, Diane Ravitch is nothing if not prolific. That aptly describes her constant stream of blog posts, tweets, speeches to teacher unions and anti-reform crowds, and promotional book tour stops and media interviews. It also describes her flow of incompatible viewpoints.

Take her view on NAEP test scores, for example. In a New York Times op-ed from 2005, Ravitch called NAEP "the gold standard," and in a 2006 WSJ piece with Chester Finn, she said "NAEP's role as honest auditor makes state officials squirm." Just three years ago, she touted NAEP as "more trustworthy than state exams." She used NAEP score comparisons as the foundation for her argument against charter schools and No Child Left Behind in the 2010 WSJ op-ed she penned explaining her change of heart.

And in her most recent book, which critics have argued "trades fact for fiction," she bases her critique of Michelle Rhee's record as DCPS Chancellor on the foundation that NAEP scores illustrate Rhee "did not turn it into the highest-performing urban district in the United States."

Yet last week, when 2013 NAEP scores were released, she found the "statistical horse race utterly stupid." She completely dismissed commending the historic gains made in DC and Tennessee as "nonsense" and "hype," asking, were "students in the states with the biggest gains getting better education or more test prep?" This despite the fact that she wrote in her just-published book "there is no way to prepare for NAEP."

Well, which is it, Professor? Are NAEP scores nonsense and just a result of more test prep, or are they still the gold standard measure of student achievement from an honest auditor?

Diane Ravitch used to like assessment as a measurement to provide higher standards and more accountability. Then she abandoned that notion.

Despite her change of views on measuring student achievement, she held onto "no-stakes" testing as a fair measurement when it conveniently fit her arguments. But last week's NAEP results made that more difficult, so she abandoned them entirely.

Self-contradiction isn't uncommon for Ravitch; her switching up on NCLB, school choice, and accountability and higher standards are all well documented. Her new views on NAEP illustrate yet again that what's she's most consistent on is advancing her own narrative.

Diane Ravitch, always evolving, always prolific. It must be working for her, because as the New York Times puts it, "she gained a much broader audience after she publicly rejected almost everything she had once believed." The problem is, it's not working for kids -- this kind of disingenuous derision masks the real accomplishments of students and educators. By doing so, Ravitch only serves to distract from the more important dialogue we should be having about which policies and practices are driving these results, and how we can leverage those to reach all students faster.