State tests often trail U.S. results
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
The basic reading skills of public school students look good as measured by state achievement tests — more than half of elementary school students in 34 states passed state tests in 2002 and 2003. But compare those scores with a nationally representative test and they paint a different picture.
In a study by the RAND Corp., a leading think tank, released today by the Carnegie Corp. of New York, researchers compared state reading scores with those on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and found that, in many states, pass rates for fourth- and fifth-graders have little correlation with national standards.
States vary widely in the rigor of their testing standards. This list compares the percentage of elementary school students who passed their state's reading test vs. the percentage of 4th-graders who were proficient or above on NAEP.
Several states with high pass rates on their own reading tests earn poor marks on NAEP. Those include Texas, which saw impressive gains in the 1990s and served as the model for No Child Left Behind, President Bush's far-reaching education reform.
Of 40 states studied (10 states didn't have scores available), 34 had pass rates higher than 50%; several topped 80%. But no state had 50% of students scoring "proficient" on the NAEP reading test. Only three — Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — had more than 40% of students scoring at the NAEP proficient level.
And although students in Texas, Georgia and Mississippi scored among the bottom third of states on NAEP, they were among those with the highest pass rates on their state tests.
Under No Child Left Behind, all 50 states were required to participate in NAEP. The results were intended to audit state standards.
As the RAND study suggests, states have developed widely different standards for reading proficiency, in several cases giving the impression that students are progressing while they may be meeting relatively low standards.
A product of the "standards movement" of the early 1990s, this phenomenon predated No Child Left Behind, but some opponents say the 2002 law has exacerbated it.
They've predicted that No Child Left Behind would urge many states to gradually lower standards, since states are rewarded for annual gains in the percentage of students passing state reading and math exams. "No Child Left Behind encourages states to manipulate test scores to look good, instead of really meeting the needs of the children who are left behind," says Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.
Counters Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey: "We're only a few years into these reforms, and just because we're not there yet doesn't mean we abandon kids and the goal of having them all at grade level — it means we work harder. Our kids deserve it, and so do the taxpayers."
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