- Researchers working with the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, looked at state results for three nationally-administered exams, approximated NAEP levels for those scores, and compared them to each state's proficiency levels, with the resultant graphs showing stark differences in some cases, EdSurge reports.
- Given that states can set their own definitions of the NAEP's "basic," "proficient" or "advanced" levels, the score of a student in, say, Oklahoma might be advanced there, but only basic in Utah — and in Louisiana, proficiency levels are set lower than NAEP's score for "basic" in 4th-grade reading and 8th-grade math.
- Many students don't finish their schooling in the same state they began, and experts note that those moving from a "low expectation" state to one with higher standards flounder in settings with considerably more pressure to perform. But while gaps between states' definitions of proficiency are a reality, the NCES found that they are narrowing, with an uptick in states raising overall standards seen in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
States have long bristled at having their education standards dictated by the federal government. An unexpected pushback to No Child Left Behind was states lowering their benchmarks for proficiency, ensuring students would pass muster and federal funding would keep flowing.
President Bill Clinton previously tried to set up a federal council to rubber-stamp state standards, but it died in Congress. More recently, the Common Core State Standards set out to address the vagaries in state proficiency levels, but that wasn't the magic bullet, either. Still, the news from NCES showing that differences in achievement metrics are smoothing out means more uniform standards may be on the horizon regardless.
Keep in mind, though, that the NCES has never seen any link between standards and student achievement. Students, typically, are not rising to meet sky-high standards. Many critics say aspirational standards simply don't make sense and are essentially unreachable — except, it seems, in a smattering of predominantly Asian or wealthy jurisdictions. Some note, though, that at least such standards open the door to more rigorous classwork.
A recent brief from iNACOL also offered recommendations for education leaders seeking to re-imagine their accountability systems to bring them more in line with student achievement. Among the key points is the importance of striving for openness and the capacity for adaptability and continuous improvement. Flexibility, for instance, might come from de-emphasizing grade level and implementing a system whereby teachers would be primed to jump in to help students exactly when and how they need it. Flexibility could also be built in to the system's ability to work with different measures, depending on the needs of the various stakeholders.