No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires all students to be “proficient” in math and reading by 2014 but allows each state to determine its own level of proficiency.
According to the editors, some states are leaving their citizens with a misleading impression of their accomplishments by grading students against low standards, while those states that have high standards may suffer by comparison.
Peterson and Hess first revealed this discrepancy a year ago (“Johnny Can Read . . . in Some States,” Education Next, summer 2005) by comparing states’ passing percentages on their math and reading tests with their passing percentages on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Now, the Education Next editors have issued a new “report card” for each state.
“We are not evaluating state tests, nor are we grading states on the performance of their students,” explain Peterson and Hess. “We are checking for ‘truth in advertising,’ investigating whether state-announced proficiency levels mean what they say.”
This year, a total of 48 states were assessed, including 9 new ones. In the good news category, a handful of states have kept their standards rigorous for a second consecutive year, each assessing their own performance on a particularly tough curve. Massachusetts, South Carolina, Wyoming, Maine, and Missouri once again earned As.
Montana topped all others as the nation’s most improved state, and Texas, Arkansas, and Wisconsin significantly boosted their proficiency standards over last year.
The bad news is that some states that had been in good standing are letting their standards slide. The biggest decline was in Arizona, with significant drops (in order of magnitude) in Maryland, Ohio, North Dakota, and Idaho.
In the “cream puff” category, states with already low standards have done nothing to raise them. Oklahoma and Tennessee both earned Fs because their self-reported performance is much higher than can be justified by the NAEP results. States with nearly equally embarrassing D minuses included Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
To learn your state’s grade and how it was graded, go to http://www.educationnext.org/20063/28.html.
Editor’s Note: Paul E. Peterson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, is the editor in chief of Education Next and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University. Frederick M. Hess, an executive editor of Education Next, is director of education policy studies and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and coauthor of the new book No Child Left Behind: A Primer (2006).