Mapping 2005 State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales

Institute of Education Sciences, Research and Development Report
June 2007

No Child Left Behind empowered states to set their own "proficiency" standards in reading and math. To keep them honest, NCLB also requires states to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Ideally, a student who scores at the proficient level on his state exam would perform equally well on NAEP. But the state exams are far from ideal. That's the working conclusion of this paper, which "mapped" student performance on fourth- and eighth-grade state exams in reading and math onto performance on the 2005 NAEP, using a methodology developed by H. I. Braun and J. Qian. (Nota bene: Not all states could be measured. The number of states mapped ranged from 32-36.) If you want the technical ins and outs, you'll need to read the report, but here's the bottom line. For fourth-grade reading, not a single state's proficiency standards rose to the level of NAEP's. And 22 states didn't even come up to NAEP's "basic" level. Results were slightly better for eighth- grade reading. The number of states below the basic level was nine. Still, none reached the proficient level. In math, the story is somewhat better. At the fourth-grade level, two states' proficiency standards matched the NAEP standards (kudos to Massachusetts and Wyoming), while all but six states ranked at or above the NAEP basic level. For eighth grade, three states make the proficiency mark (Missouri, South Carolina, and Massachusetts), but eight fail to reach the basic level. It's a great report, so long as one bears in mind its two inherent shortcomings. First, the content of NAEP is not well aligned to every state's academic standards, so one cannot know to what degree this factor is driving the discrepancies. And second, it measures only a single point in time (2005). We wonder if states, over time, have been progressively easing their tests to elevate the percentage of students making the grade. Stay tuned for our answer this fall.

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