>But if students truly understand the concepts, shouldn't they be >able to do reasonably well on these "low level" tests?
I agree. In fact, I've thought minimum competency exams might consist of three parts:
1) Basic skills and concepts 2) Traditional word/application problems 3) Problems reflecting "higher order" thinking skills (what they called "enhanced multiple choice problems")
For a student to demonstrate competency, s/he would have to pass two of three parts. Students taught in traditional methods might be expected to excell at 1&2 while students taught in more "Standards" based classrooms might be expected by some folk to excell at 2&3.
Then you might get some interesting data of unexpected proficiencies. Perhaps, traditional kids might do better on 3 because they have a better basis or perhaps we'd find "Standards" based students would excell at 1 because they truly learned the basics because they saw the value in them.