by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Today, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) published “The Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: Results from the 2013 NAEP Reading and Mathematics Assessment.” In this study, NAEP researchers compared what it means to be “proficient” on state tests versus the proficiency standards used for fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math NAEP tests. By using NAEP’s three main achievement levels (Basic, Proficient, and Advanced) as a common point of comparison, researchers can determine the relative rigor of proficiency standards set by each state.
In the past, North Carolina’s proficiency scores landed in NAEP’s “Basic” and “below Basic” categories. In other words, a student who achieved a “proficient” score on a North Carolina math or reading test would have only earned a “Basic” or “below Basic” score on NAEP tests. This suggested that North Carolina’s proficiency standards were low.
In an analysis of tests administered in 2013, North Carolina’s proficiency standards were among the highest in the nation. That is good news.
Our state’s fourth- and eighth-grade math standards were slightly stronger than our reading standards. Math proficiency in North Carolina was similar to proficiency standards on NAEP tests. Reading proficiency in North Carolina was near the top of NAEP’s Basic level.
I know some will want to credit the adoption of the Common Core State Standards for the change. I am not one of them. Common Core was adopted in 2010, so it is reasonable to assume that state officials would have then raised proficiency standards in 2011. Yet, in 2011, North Carolina’s proficiency standards remained weak, particularly for fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math. Rather, the NC State Board of Education, in consultation with the NC Department of Public Instruction, approved higher proficiency standards in October 2013, that is, over three years after the adoption of Common Core.
Additionally, many states that have adopted Common Core still have weak proficiency standards, e.g., Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, and Idaho.