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State tests often trail U.S. results

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

2006 Studay Matching State Standards to NAEP Criteria

The basic reading skills of public school students look good as measured by state achievement tests more than half of elementary school students in 34 states passed state tests in 2002 and 2003. But compare those scores with a nationally representative test and they paint a different picture.

In a study by the RAND Corp., a leading think tank, released today by the Carnegie Corp. of New York, researchers compared state reading scores with those on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and found that, in many states, pass rates for fourth- and fifth-graders have little correlation with national standards.

States vary widely in the rigor of their testing standards. This list compares the percentage of elementary school students who passed their state's reading test vs. the percentage of 4th-graders who were proficient or above on NAEP.

Several states with high pass rates on their own reading tests earn poor marks on NAEP. Those include Texas, which saw impressive gains in the 1990s and served as the model for No Child Left Behind, President Bush's far-reaching education reform.

Of 40 states studied (10 states didn't have scores available), 34 had pass rates higher than 50%; several topped 80%. But no state had 50% of students scoring "proficient" on the NAEP reading test. Only three Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts had more than 40% of students scoring at the NAEP proficient level.

And although students in Texas, Georgia and Mississippi scored among the bottom third of states on NAEP, they were among those with the highest pass rates on their state tests.

Under No Child Left Behind, all 50 states were required to participate in NAEP. The results were intended to audit state standards.

As the RAND study suggests, states have developed widely different standards for reading proficiency, in several cases giving the impression that students are progressing while they may be meeting relatively low standards.

A product of the "standards movement" of the early 1990s, this phenomenon predated No Child Left Behind, but some opponents say the 2002 law has exacerbated it.

They've predicted that No Child Left Behind would urge many states to gradually lower standards, since states are rewarded for annual gains in the percentage of students passing state reading and math exams. "No Child Left Behind encourages states to manipulate test scores to look good, instead of really meeting the needs of the children who are left behind," says Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

Counters Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey: "We're only a few years into these reforms, and just because we're not there yet doesn't mean we abandon kids and the goal of having them all at grade level it means we work harder. Our kids deserve it, and so do the taxpayers."

A world of difference in scores

State % Passed state test % Proficient on NAEP
California 39% 21%
D.C. 29% 10%
South Carolina 33% 26%
Hawaii 41% 21%
Wyoming 44% 34%
Nevada 46% 20%
Maine 49% 36%
South Dakota 51% 33%
New Mexico 53% 19%
Pennsylvania 57% 33%
Connecticut 59% 43%
Louisiana 59% 20%
Florida 60% 32%
Illinois 60% 31%
Arkansas 61% 28%
Rhode Island 62% 29%
Kentucky 63% 31%
Oklahoma 64% 26%
Maryland 66% 32%
Washington 67% 33%
Ohio 68% 34%
Kansas 69% 33%
North Dakota 74% 32%
Idaho 75% 30%
Michigan 75% 32%
Minnesota 75% 37%
Iowa 76% 35%
Montana 76% 35%
Oregon 76% 31%
Vermont 76% 37%
Delaware 78% 33%
New Jersey 79% 39%
Georgia 80% 27%
Utah 80% 32%
Wisconsin 80% 33%
North Carolina 81% 33%
Virginia 82% 35%
Texas 85% 27%
Mississippi 87% 18%
Colorado 87% 37%
Massachusetts 90% 40%

Source: RAND Corp.

Only 40 states had state test scores available.

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Last modified: December 27, 2004

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