Illusion of proficiency continues to shed its veil

As Amy indicates, the latest findings from the just-released National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report contain few surprises, especially since we're well-versed in the differences between states' definitions of proficiency and proficiency as mapped onto a common scale (see here and here).

This NCES report maps state proficiency standards onto NAEP scales and concludes that:

All NAEP scale equivalents of states' reading standards were below NAEP's Proficient range; and in mathematics, only two states' NAEP scale equivalents were in the NAEP Proficient range (Massachusetts in grades 4 and 8, and South Carolina in grade 8). In many cases, the NAEP scale equivalent for a state's standards, especially in grade 4 reading, mapped below the NAEP achievement level for Basic performance.

Yikes. Dig into the report and you'll find several tables that show which states have lowered and raised their proficiency standards between 2005 and 2007. The data are rightly separated into those states that have results that can be compared (e.g., because they have the same tests in place) and those that cannot (e.g., they changed their standards/tests/testing policies). Of those states with comparable data, we see that New Jersey's NAEP scale equivalent in grade 4 reading has increased roughly 11 points over the last two years, while South Carolina's has dipped roughly 6 points. Interestingly, South Carolina has some of the highest proficiency standards in the nation in both reading and math--why hit the brakes now? Did they decide that their rigorous standards aren't worth the AYP price? On the other hand, New Jersey's proficiency standards fell in the middle of the pack compared to other states--and their grade 3 reading cut scores were at the 15th percentile (!) when NWEA did their report for us over 2 years ago. So, clearly the Garden State had room to grow.

In grade 8 math, Arkansas and Georgia win the booby prize. Arkansas' NAEP scale equivalent dipped 11 points over the last two years and Georgia's almost twelve. Besides Tennessee, Georgia has the lowest Grade 8 math equivalent scores in the 48 states studied. Indeed, our Accountability Illusion report had this to say about Georgia: "Several sample schools made AYP in Georgia that failed to make AYP in most other states. This is likely due to the fact that Georgia's proficiency standards are relatively easy, compared to other states."

So, add this latest round of results to the expanding literature we now have on this so-called proficiency illusion (Fordham's work of course, but also Porter's work and this 2005 report from IES, similar to the one just released). Frankly, all of this is starting to sound like a broken record (broken iPod for our younger listeners).

Here's hoping the common standards movement strikes an appealing new tune.

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