Study: Pa. students held to mid-level standards
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The report card is out, and Pennsylvania again landed in the middle of the pack in the rigor of its state testing standards.
The National Center for Education Statistics released a report Wednesday that shows how proficiency standards for state tests measure up against each other and against the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, often known as the Nation's Report Card.
"This report and the NAEP itself is really used as a yardstick to keep states honest in setting proficiency levels that are rigorous, and shed light on the differences among the states," said Jim Buckheit, the executive director for the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.
The study used a complex formula to compare what it considered proficient on the NAEP with proficiency standards for each state's tests in math and reading in fourth and eighth grades.
The goal of the study is to provide a means of comparison in a country where each state designs its own tests and sets its own standards. The implication of the study is that a student considered proficient in one state may not be proficient in another.
"NAEP is uniquely capable of providing comparable state-by-state results, which allows us to understand the relative stringency of state standards," said the center's Commissioner Jack Buckley in a news release. "The study shows that whether a child is considered 'proficient' largely depends on where he or she lives."
On a national basis, the report showed a wide variation among state proficiency standards, and also showed that most states' proficiency standards are at or below NAEP's definition of basic performance, meaning partial mastery of knowledge and skills. The study looked at data from 2008-2009 state assessments and from the 2009 NAEP assessment.
In Pennsylvania, the proficiency standard for fourth-grade reading tests was the 15th most rigorous in the country. For fourth-grade math, the standard was 32nd toughest.
For eighth grade tests, the state's proficiency standard was 27th-toughest, and for math, it was 18th.
For all four tests, Pennsylvania was considered within the "basic" performance range for the NAEP equivalent. The study found that most state proficiency standards were within the NAEP basic achievement level range, except in fourth-grade reading, where most were below the basic level.
Tim Eller, a spokesman for Pennsylvania's Department of Education, said the department is working to increase the rigor of statewide tests.
"We don't want to be in the middle of the pack, we want to be ahead of the curve," Mr. Eller said.
Massachusetts was the only state whose standard equivalent was in the NAEP proficient range, for fourth- and eighth-grade math.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement he was "optimistic that states will continue to increase the rigor of their standards."
"Higher standards and better assessments are essential reform, and I am committed to supporting states as they do the work of raising standards," he said.
Pennsylvania maintained a relatively good level of rigor in reading and mathematics in recent years, Mr. Buckheit said. But Pennsylvania, like most other states, has less rigorous standards than the national standard.
"I think across the board that what the report is saying, and what Secretary Duncan said, was that the nation as a whole needs to raise its expectations, and that means pretty much all states," Mr. Buckheit said.
Although the new report showed that Pennsylvania remains in the mid-range for the stringency of its tests, its ranking has dropped in some areas compared to the 2007 and 2005 reports.
In 2007, Pennsylvania was ranked 10th for grade-four reading and 29th for eighth grade. In math, the state was ranked 24th in grade four and 21st for grade eight.
And in 2005, Pennsylvania's proficiency standard for eighth-grade reading ranked seventh toughest in the nation. For eighth-grade math, it ranked 17th. Comparisons weren't available for fourth grade.
The full text of the report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/statemapping.asp.
First Published August 11, 2011 12:00 am