Opinion
International Letter to the Editor

Commentary Gave False Picture of NAEP Proficiency

December 13, 2011 1 min read

To the Editor:

In a recent Commentary (“NAEP’s Odd Definition of Proficiency,” Oct. 26, 2011), James Harvey makes inaccurate assertions about the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, achievement levels—specifically, that they are invalid and that the “proficient” level is set too high.

While there has been much debate about the challenging nature of the NAEP achievement levels, Mr. Harvey cherry-picks the findings he presents, most of which are decades old. He ignores more current findings—which happen to be positive—including the most recent NAEP evaluation report, which concludes that “the internal and procedural evidence supports the validity of the [achievement-level setting] process; however, the external evidence could be strengthened.”

Mr. Harvey’s research lacks thoroughness. He seemingly is unaware that the National Assessment Governing Board is strengthening the external evidence as the evaluation recommended, with more than 30 validity studies planned or under way. Preliminary results indicate that proficiency on 12th grade NAEP reading and mathematics is consistent with a 500 on the SAT in reading and mathematics, the scores the College Board has set as college-readiness benchmarks. This contradicts both of Mr. Harvey’s assertions. He also incorrectly identifies as a board member someone who has never served.

The governing board intends to use research rather than opinions about international achievement as one of the external sources of information about the achievement levels. In fact, the 2011 NAEP scores will be compared to both the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, or PIRLS. The results of these studies will provide additional evidence about the achievement levels of U.S. students. To be globally competitive, our nation must benchmark against the best in the world.

Accepting low expectations is perilous for students and the country as a whole. In contrast with Mr. Harvey, the board will not accept demography as an excuse for setting low standards of achievement.

Cornelia S. Orr

Executive Director

National Assessment Governing Board

Washington, D.C.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 15, 2011 edition of Education Week as Commentary Gave False Picture of NAEP Proficiency

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