States set testing bar too low, U.S. official says


POSTED: Friday, October 30, 2009

WASHINGTON » Many states set achievement standards so low that they can say their students are reading and doing math at their grade level when they have not truly mastered the subjects, the U.S. Education Department says.

“;States are setting the bar too low,”; Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday. “;We're lying to our children when we tell them they're proficient. ... They're not achieving at a level that will prepare them for success once they graduate.”;

A Hawaii Department of Education official said the state's proficiency tests in math and reading are among the toughest in the nation.

In math, however, most kids do not clear the bar.

The Obama administration said the report bolsters its effort to persuade all states to adopt the same set of tougher standards for what students should know.

A report by the U.S. department's statistics arm compared state achievement levels with those on National Assessment of Education Progress tests. It found that many states deemed children to be proficient or at grade level when they would rate below basic or lacking even partial mastery of reading and math under the NAEP standards.

In terms of “;level or rigor,”; said Hawaii NAEP coordinator Robert Hillier, the state's testing is comparable to national testing.

For instance, fourth-grade math standards are the seventh most rigorous among states, and for grade eight, the third most rigorous, he said, pointing to charts in the 48-page study covering 2005 and 2007 testing.

Specifically, the federal test sets 262 as the score reflecting an eighth-grader's basic understanding of math, with 299 considered proficient. The equivalent state proficiency score is 294.

Only 26 percent of eighth-graders met state proficiency in math, and 21 percent scored at the NAEP proficiency level or above.

Reading test standards for Hawaii students are not as high. “;Even though we are at about the NAEP basic for grade four, we are the ninth most rigorous state in the nation,”; Hillier said. “;At grade eight we are nearer the middle of nation in rigor, but we are still just above the basic”; level on federal testing.

A summary of the report showed that of Hawaii fourth-graders tested, 54 percent met state proficiency standards in reading, and 26 percent were at or above the NAEP proficiency level. In math, 48 percent met state standards, while 33 percent reached the federal proficiency level.

Of eighth-graders, 60 percent met state proficiency standards in reading, compared with 20 percent on the NAEP test.

Hillier said Hawaii began participating in the mapping studies of testing standards in 1990. It became mandatory in 2003 with the No Child Left Behind initiative. He said federal funding is not tied to the rigor of testing.

The federal government cannot impose a set of standards, because education is largely up to states.

But Duncan noted he is offering millions of dollars in grants to encourage states to accept a set of standards being developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.

While the standards are not yet final, every state but Texas and Alaska already has committed to work toward adopting them.


Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Adamski contributed to this report.