What students must learn to be deemed academically proficient varies drastically from state to state, the United States Department of Education said today in a report that, for the first time, showed the specific extent of the differences.
The report supports critics who say the political compromise of the federal No Child Left Behind law, President Bush’s signature education initiative, has led to a patchwork of educational inequities around the country, with no common yardstick to determine whether schoolchildren are learning enough.
The law requires that all students be brought to proficiency by 2014, but lets each state set its own proficiency standards and choose its own tests to measure achievement.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), states are required to report the percentages of students achieving proficiency in reading and mathematics for grades 3 through 8. For each subject and grade combination, the percentages vary widely across states. For grades 4 and 8, these percentages can be compared to the estimated percentages of students achieving proficiency with respect to the standard established by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Again, large discrepancies are observed. This variation could derive from differences in both content standards and student academic achievement from state to state, as well as from differences in the stringency of the standards adopted by the states. Unfortunately, there is no way to directly compare state proficiency standards because states are free to select the tests they employ and to establish their own performance standards.