NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 20, 2010

What percentage of Georgia's fourth-graders are good readers?  It seems to depend on whom you ask.  The state will tell you that 85 percent of their students met or exceeded the proficiency benchmark on its 2007 test.  On the other hand, that year only 28 percent scored high enough to be considered proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an exam administered by the United States Department of Education that is usually regarded as the gold standard. 

The big difference results from where the two tests set their proficiency bars, says the Los Angeles Times: 

  • Georgia sets its bar pretty low -- so low that barely literate students can score high enough to be deemed proficient.
  • On the NAEP, a student labeled "proficient" by Georgia could fail to score above "basic."
  • Unfortunately, five states have even lower standards than Georgia's, and eight others are at about the same level.
  • For its part, in 2007, 52 percent of California's students performed at or above the proficiency benchmark on the state's reading exam, while only 23 percent met or exceeded the NAEP's proficiency standard. 

What's worse, standards are declining.  A recent federal study noted that 15 states lowered at least one of their proficiency standards in math and reading between 2005 and 2007, which explains why the case for high, uniform, enforceable national standards seems strong.  But national standards run up against serious objections. Historically, schooling has been a state matter, explains Winters. 

We could make better progress toward an effective testing regime if we changed our goal from uniform national standards to high state standards, says Winters. 

Source: Marcus Winters, "Raising the education bar," The Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2010. 

For text:,0,765917.story 


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