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REVISITING PROFICIENT VS. PREPARED: States Make Progress in Closing “Honesty Gaps” in Student Proficiency Ratings

Since last year, sixteen states have eliminated or nearly eliminated “honesty gaps” while nine more have made significant progress toward closing the gaps,

Last May, Achieve released Proficient Vs. Prepared, a report finding that more than half of states report proficiency rates in math and reading that were at least 30 percentage points higher than those reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is also known as the Nation’s Report Card and is considered by many to be the “gold standard” in measuring student achievement. Since last year, sixteen states have eliminated or nearly eliminated[1] these “honesty gaps” while nine more have made significant progress toward closing the gaps,[2] according to an updated version of the report that Achieve released on January 28.

“We’re pleased to see so many states being transparent about student performance,” said Sandy Boyd, chief operating officer at Achieve, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization. “Parents and educators deserve accurate information about how well students are performing. The transition to college- and career-ready assessments in many states is an important step and while tests are not the only indicator of readiness, they are an important one. If we want to move the needle on student outcomes, we need to be clear about student performance; only then can we help students improve.”

Alabama, Kentucky, and Minnesota continue to have “moderate” gaps between 5 and 20 percentage points, the report notes, while gaps in North Carolina and Tennessee remained roughly the same, with at least one gap larger than 20 percentage points. Meanwhile, the report cites Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia for “[continuing] to insist that far more students are proficient than their NAEP scores indicate,” as shown in the table below.

Percentage-Point Gaps in Proficiency Rates on NAEP vs. State Tests

The report focuses on fourth-grade reading scores because “learning to read by this grade sets the foundation for reading to learn throughout the rest of a student’s academic career” while eighth-grade math was chosen because students “need this foundation to be able to continue on through higher level math in high school,” according to Achieve’s press release announcing the findings from the report.

The report notes that it “does not compare the content of the tests, but only of the percentage of students deemed proficient on each.” As defined by NAEP, proficiency equates to “solid academic performance” in the grade level assessed. “Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills approximate to the subject matter,” the report says.

The full report, which includes data for every state and the District of Columbia, is available at

[1] Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia have either eliminated or reduced the gap to where proficiency rates on state tests are within 5 percentage points of those reported by NAEP.

[2] Alaska, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington have closed their gaps by 10 percentage points or more in either fourth-grade reading or eighth-grade math, but they still have gaps of more than 5 percentage points.

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