Moving the Goalposts Back

by Robert Pondiscio
July 20th, 2010

School superintendents in some New York cities are complaining that changes to state tests that would lower passing rates and toughen the definition of proficiency are “akin to moving goalposts.”  “We’ve lost sight of the purpose of the test — it’s supposed to show you’ve mastered a certain skill at a certain time,” Daniel G. Lowengard, the superintendent in Syracuse tells the New York Times.  “I think it’s unfair to teachers to say thank you very much, you’ve been doing this work for the last three or four years, and now that your kids are passing, all of sudden we’re going to call a B a C and call a C a D.”

No.  Exactly wrong. The point is that kids have NOT mastered a certain skill at a certain time.  We’ve just been pretending they did.   The goalposts aren’t moving, they’ve been creeping in for years.  What David Steiner and Co. are talking about is moving them back into the endzone where they belong and (hopefully) bolting them to the ground.  If we must have football analogies, this is the proper one:  We’ve been telling kids for years they’re nailing kicks from 60 yards out and are NFL material.  Only it turns out the goalposts were merely 20 yards away.   Telling someone they’ve got the tools when they don’t is not just misleading but cruel.