Education Letter to the Editor

Nation Should Seek More Than ‘Proficiency’

August 29, 2011 1 min read

To the Editor:

The news that states have failed to raise standards on math and reading tests is certainly disappointing, but not at all surprising (“What Do Rising Title I Achievement Scores Really Mean?,” Inside School Research blog, Aug. 10, 2011). The federal education framework set in place by the No Child Left Behind Act requires our country’s states, districts, and schools to focus exclusively on maximizing the number of students considered “proficient” on end-of-year tests. This myopic attention to “proficiency” has led to two disturbing, but wholly unsurprising results: First, as your report noted, states have lowered standards to increase the number of students considered “proficient.”

At the risk of sounding flippant, this action was a no-brainer. Under NCLB, states are not held accountable in any way for the strength of their standards, and lowering their bars is a natural response to meeting the law’s standards. Second, and more importantly, this emphasis on “proficiency” has eviscerated state, district, and local school efforts to increase student performance past the proficiency line. Considering the glut of resources that has been devoted to boosting the performance of struggling learners, one might think Congress and the U.S. Department of Education would couple this approach with at least some energy to foster “excellence.”

Despite a presidential directive that the United States will “out-educate and out-innovate” the world, this is not the case. Congress recently eliminated the one program devoted to gifted-and-talented education, and the Department of Education has done little to support high-ability students. Without some support and direction from the federal government, gifted-and-talented initiatives at the state level are maddeningly uneven, resulting in a patchwork quilt with the strongest programs typically confined to the most affluent communities. States must set a high bar and hold themselves accountable for meeting it, including an effort to measure and report on academic success above grade level. As a nation, we cannot afford to stop at “proficient” if we have any hope of achieving excellence.

Nancy Green

Executive Director
National Association for Gifted Children
Washington, D.C

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A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2011 edition of Education Week as Nation Should Seek More Than ‘Proficiency’