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INTERNATIONAL BENCHMARKING: New AIR Report Finds Large Differences in States’ Performance Standards

AIR report states, "the stringency of the performance standards used across the states is huge and probably far greater than most policymakers realize."

Education standards in states with the highest standards are roughly three to four grade levels higher than those in states with the lowest standards, according to a new report from American Institutes for Research (AIR). The report, International Benchmarking: State and National Education Performance Standards, uses data from two international tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to compare states to each other and benchmark them against the standard used in the international assessments.

“The stringency of the performance standards used across the states is huge and probably far greater than most policymakers realize. The difference between the state with the highest standards and the state with the lowest standards … is so great that it is more than twice the size of the national black–white achievement gap,” the report notes. “These large differences among states clearly indicate why we need more common assessments and the Common Core State Standards.”

In conducting its analysis, AIR used results from two international assessments—the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS)—and the 2011 NAEP. AIR then used a benchmarking process that allowed it to estimate how the 2011 results that states reported would have looked had all the states used a common metric.

In eighth-grade math, Massachusetts and Minnesota were the only states to receive a B- for their performance standards while nine states received a C+. Fourteen states received a C, seventeen received a C-, and six received a D+ or D. In eighth-grade science, seven states received a B while five states received a B-. Thirty-six states received a C+, C, or C- while one state received a D. “These results help explain why the United States does poorly in international comparisons,” the report notes. “Many states think they have high standards and are doing well, and feel no urgency to improve because almost all their students are proficient.”

The report acknowledges that some states may have raised standards since 2011 and other states may have lowered them. It notes that Kentucky, New York, Utah, and Wisconsin, for example, have “substantially” raised their performance standards and would now be rated with a B rather than the roughly C grades assigned to them in the report.

International Benchmarking: State and National Education Performance Standards is available at

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