Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), states must test students annually in grades three through eight and once in high school in reading and mathematics. The law allows each state to design its own test and to set a score that all students must meet to be considered proficient. However, there is no way to compare results across states, and, as a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics notes, the percentages of students deemed proficient vary widely across states for a given subject and grade.
The report, Mapping 2005 State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales, suggests that the wide difference in scores could be due to differences in the stringency of the standards adopted by the states. In an effort to compare the various state tests, the report’s authors use a mapping exercise to project state standards onto the scale used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Specifically, the authors use the percentages of students who reach proficiency on state tests in reading and math to estimate what the equivalent proficiency score would be on the NAEP tests in reading and math.
For example, in Hawaii, only 20 percent of eighth-grade students scored at the proficient level on the state test in math. However, by using the mapping exercise, the report’s authors project that scoring at proficiency on Hawaii’s state test would be equivalent to scoring 296 on the NAEP test in math. Conversely, while 88 percent of Tennessee’s eighth graders scored at proficiency on the state test in math, the proficient level on the Tennessee test would equal a score of 230 on the NAEP test. In order to score at the proficient level on NAEP, a student would need a score of 299 or above. A score of 262 or above would place a student at the basic level on NAEP.
Turning to eighth-grade students’ reading scores, the report finds that only 57 percent of Arkansas’s students scored at proficient on the state test, but that scoring at proficient on the Arkansas test is equivalent to scoring 254 on the NAEP test in reading. In North Carolina, however, 88 percent of eighth-grade students scored at proficient on the state test, but scoring at proficient on the North Carolina state test is only equivalent to scoring 217 on the NAEP test, as reflected in the chart to the right. A score of 243 would place a student at the basic level on NAEP while a score of 281 would place him or her at the proficient level.
The report also offers several key findings about state tests as they relate to the NAEP test. Specifically, it finds that states vary widely in the NAEP equivalents of their proficiency standards, with up to an eighty-one point difference in proficiency standards between the states. In addition, as evidenced by the chart above, most state proficiency standards fall within the NAEP basic range—except in fourth-grade reading, where most fall below basic.
The complete report, which includes charts for fourth-grade reading and math, as well as eighth- grade math, is available athttp://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/studies/2007482.pdf.