International Benchmarking: State Education Performance Standards

American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Gary W. Phillips
October 2010 

Analyses comparing US students’ achievement with that of their global peers are widespread (and discouraging), but little has been said about how US educational standards compare to standards in other nations. This new AIR study does just that.

To make the comparison, Phillips begins with the metric the National Center for Education Statistics uses to evaluate state assessments (assumed to be representative of state standards) in relation to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). He then uses this NAEP-based evaluation as a bridge to measure state assessments against the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) (two studies assumed to be representative of international standards). Phillips determines that across the grade levels studied (grades four and eight), less than four percent of states have standards on par with or higher than the TIMSS and PIRLS standards in mathematics and reading, respectively. 

Ohioans may be interested to learn that on an A-F scale in which a “B” represents meeting or exceeding international standards, the report gives Ohio’s standards a C for fourth grade mathematics and reading, and a C- for eighth grade mathematics. (The study does not measure grade eight reading.) These “grades” put Ohio slightly below the national average in all subjects and grade levels studied. The study also posits that low testing standards have caused Ohio, among other states, to report artificially high proficiency numbers. For example, although the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) reported that 81.7 percent of Ohio’s grade four students were proficient in reading in 2007, Phillips estimates that only 50 percent would have been proficient by an international standard. (Earlier this year, Fordham reported a similar discrepancy between Ohio students’ scores on the Ohio Achievement Test scores and their scores on the NAEP.)

Considering that Ohio has recognized the inadequacy of its own current standards and has recently adopted the Common Core standards in English language arts and math, the study is more helpful in evaluating where Ohio has been rather than where we are going. Still, it provides a useful comparison to other nations, one that might be worth replicating in the future. Read the full study here.

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