The majority of U.S. states continue to have student proficiency benchmarks that fall well below national standards, according to a federal report released last month. Eight states increased the rigor of their passing marks on standardized exams between 2007 and 2009; however, when compared to the national exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the standards of these states and most others are still much lower than those at the federal level.
“Despite the progress, there is still much room for improvement in providing American students with a rigorous academic education that prepares them for success in the knowledge economy,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement.
Duncan expressed optimism that states will continue to increase the rigor of their standards and noted that forty-four states and the District of Columbia have adopted common standards in English language arts and math designed to prepare students for college and a career. “These standards will raise the bar so students are ready to compete in the global economy,” Duncan said.
Because the No Child Left Behind Act allowed each state to develop its own assessments and set the levels at which students were considered proficient, there is great variation between the academic standards that students must meet. To better compare one state’s standards to another, while also tracking whether the rigor of a state’s standards have changed over time, the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, developed the report. First issued in 2003, the report, Mapping State Proficiency Standards onto the NAEP Scales, is released every two years and compares states’ measurements for student achievement on the NAEP’s 500-point scale.
As in previous years, the most recent report shows enormous discrepancy among the fifty states. For example, in eighth-grade mathematics, a 71-point difference exists between Massachusetts, which has the highest NAEP equivalent score, and Tennessee, which has the lowest. Further, in eighth-grade reading, there is a 60-point difference between Texas, which has the lowest NAEP equivalent score, and Missouri, which has the highest.
In addition to this troubling disparity, many state proficiency marks are still below the NAEP’s “basic” level. “Basic” means students have a reasonable understanding of material as opposed to “proficient,” which means they have a firm grasp of it.
In eighth-grade reading, sixteen of fifty states set standards for proficiency lower than the NAEP’s “basic” performance, while the remaining thirty-four fell within the “basic” range, as shown in the map to the right. No state matched the NAEP’s “proficient” level in this category.
As for eighth-grade mathematics, twelve out of the forty-nine states with available data were lower than the NAEP’s “basic” category; thirty-six states were within the “basic” NAEP level. Only one state, Massachusetts, was in the “proficient” range.
In fourth-grade reading, thirty-five out of fifty states included in the analysis set standards for proficiency lower than the NAEP’s “basic” performance, while the remaining fifteen fell within the “basic” range. No state matched the NAEP’s “proficient” level in this category. As for fourth-grade mathematics, seven out of fifty states were lower and forty-two were at the “basic” NAEP level. Only Massachusetts was in the “proficient” range.
The eight states that increased the rigor of their standards between 2007 and 2009 were Indiana, Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and West Virginia. South Carolina was the only state to loosen standards on math and reading tests.
The complete report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/studies/2011458.pdf.
Categories:No Child Left Behind