A new study released Thursday finds that state proficiency test results are likely misleading parents about a child’s academic preparedness in math and reading.
More than half of all states have a 30-point or more differential between their own reported proficiency rates and the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), which is commonly considered the gold standard of assessments by groups ranging from the liberal American Federation of Teachers to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The study, which was conducted by Achieve, a nationally-recognized education reform organization, would seem to suggest state proficiency tests are subject to political manipulation to paint an unrealistic picture of student success. Parents, students, and teachers are often shown state test results overestimating student achievement, and the ultimate impact of these low state standards may not be fully realized until a child has graduated and is required to take remedial education courses in college or the workplace.
“This is not a classroom problem or a teacher problem, it is a political problem in need of a political solution,” said Karen Nussle, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success. Nussle stated in a call with reporters that it will take “political courage” to fix this problem. She pointed to the positive steps taken by New York with its adoption of Common Core standards and aligned testing, which offers more rigorous assessments than NAEP.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) told reporters Thursday that his state was actively focused on closing the “honesty gap” demonstrated in the study. Delaware is transitioning to use testing aligned with Common Core that is intended to present parents, students, teachers, and school administrators with an assessment that is less politically-motivated and instead allows for a better understanding of how students compare to their peers in other states.
“We know that the test is going to be more difficult, so we think it’s important for us, and for that matter all states that are in the middle of this transition, to ensure that when scores drop, educators and families know that it’s not because students are performing worse but because we’re being honest with them,” said Markell.
“A decade ago, when we were setting our own standards and defining proficiency, we were defining that way too low,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who also joined the press call with Markell. “It is an incredible disservice to your citizens” to not be honest about educational achievement, said Haslam. He explained that his state had been telling parents that 90 percent of students were proficient at grade level, but NAEP results showed the state was nowhere near the achievement levels it was reporting. Of the Tennessee high school graduates who went on to community college, 70 percent required remedial courses, noted Haslam.
After implementing higher standards and improved testing, NAEP found Tennessee made the largest gains in the country for reading and math assessments. Tennessee has been implementing Common Core standards and has also asked for input across the state to raise standards above those already in place. Tennessee was rated as one of the top “Truth-Tellers” in the Achieve study.
Achieve focused on fourth grade reading and eighth grade math standards in the report. Proficiency at those grade levels is considered essential for preparedness to move on to higher levels.
The states with the largest “honesty gaps” between state assessments and NAEP were Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas.
The report is available HERE.