States Are Raising the Bar

CaptureA study, published in the journal Education Next, finds that since 2011, 45 states have raised the levels at which students are considered “proficient” on state tests. Thirty-six of the 45 did so within just the last two years.

The report is the seventh in a series that examines states’ proficiency rates over the past decade. Each study compares the proportion of students that scored “proficient” on states’ tests in math and English/language arts to the proportion that scored proficient in those subjects on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

The new analysis, conducted by researchers from Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, compares states’ test scores from 2014-15 with the 2015 NAEP in grades 4 and 8. It assigns each state a letter grade to reflect how closely its proficiency rates mirror those on NAEP, which is widely considered the gold standard in academic assessment.

Higher Grades

Twenty-four states earned A’s overall for closely reflecting NAEP’s definition of proficiency in 2015. In a 2011 version of the EdNext study, only three states earned A’s. Eighteen states’ ratings jumped by two letter grades or more since 2013.

“In short,” writes researcher Paul E. Peterson, with co-authors Samuel Barrows and Thomas Gift, “standards have suddenly skyrocketed.”

“It is a hopeful sign that proficiency standards have moved in the right direction,” they write. “If student performance shifts upward in tandem, it will signal a long-awaited enhancement in the quality of American schools.”

For the original study results, see:

For commentary, see