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.


  1. OTOH, the rhetoric that a high school diploma should indicate that you’re ready for college seems pretty recent to me. I don’t recall everyone believing ten or even five years ago that someone who barely graduated from high school should *by definition* be ready to pass a credit-bearing community college course.

    So it seems to me that the goalposts have been moved. Although perhaps they may have been moving in for K-8 the same time we stared moving them out in 9-12, which doesn’t strike one as a promising combination.

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — July 20, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

  2. Always a pleasure to find myself in agreement with Tom Hoffman. I’m not arguing whether college readiness is or is not the appropriate measure. Likewise I’m not arguing that test-driven accountability is or is not an appropriate way to gauge student achievement. But *if* college readiness is the standard, and *if* testing is the coin of thee realm. then it’s essential those things must be fair, transparent and relevant.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — July 20, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  3. The Syracuse Superintendent has “mastered” convoluted reasoning. He must be kidding.

    If he believes Steiner’s plan is unfair to teachers, what does he think it means for students?

    Comment by Paul Hoss — July 20, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

  4. Thank you!

    Comment by tim-10-ber — July 20, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

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