Assessment

Skills Gap on State, Federal Tests Grows, Study Finds

By Lynn Olson — April 10, 2007 3 min read

Far greater shares of students are proficient on state reading and mathematics tests than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and those gaps have grown to unprecedented levels since the No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, concludes a study released today.

The study by Policy Analysis for California Education, a nonprofit research group based at the University of California, Berkeley, was released here during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The researchers compiled state and federal testing results for the period 1992 to 2006 from 12 states: Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington.

In all but two states—Arkansas and Massachusetts—the disparity between the share of students proficient on state reading tests and on NAEP, a congressionally mandated program that tests a representative sample of students in every state, grew or remained the same from 2002 to 2006. A similar widening occurred between state and federal gauges of math performance in eight of 12 states.

Those findings call into question whether the state-reported gains are real or illusory, according to the researchers.

“State leaders are under enormous pressure to show that students are making progress,” said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at Berkeley who led the study. “So, they are finding inventive ways of showing higher test scores.”

Under the federal law, states must give reading and math tests annually in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school. Schools and districts that do not meet annual targets for the percentage of students who score proficient on those exams face an escalating series of federal sanctions, with the target rising to 100 percent proficiency in 2013-14.

Critics have suggested that, rather than raising academic standards, the law is encouraging states to lower the bar for passing state tests or otherwise adjust their definition of “proficiency” downward in order to avoid identifying too many schools as missing their targets.

Greater Transparency Urged

In California, for example, in 2002 there was a gap of 15 percentage points between the proportion of 4th graders deemed proficient readers on the state test and the percentage of those who scored at the proficient level on NAEP. By 2006, that disparity had grown to 27 percentage points, the study found. According to the researchers, that equates to 129,000 4th graders who are currently deemed “proficient” in reading under California’s standards but fail to clear the more demanding federal bar.

In Texas, in 2002, a gap of 48 percentage points existed between the proportions of 4th graders who scored at the proficient level in reading on state tests versus on NAEP. That gap widened to 53 percentage points by 2006.

“Taxpayers now spend billions of dollars each year on standardized tests,” Mr. Fuller said. “But now we have two diverging gauges of how well students are doing. It’s confusing for parents and employers. It makes for mischief out in the states.”

While proposals to address the issue by introducing national standards and tests remain controversial, Mr. Fuller noted in his presentation, the large and growing gap between state and federal testing results “invites stronger centralized control.”

He suggested that a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, offers a middle ground. The legislation would require states to report NAEP results alongside state results and encourage them to benchmark their standards against national and international ones.

Federal officials should consider backing away from micromanaging growth targets, the Berkeley professor suggested, while doing more to enforce transparency in reporting achievement trends.

Related Tags:

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Interdisciplinary STEAM Specialist
Smyrna, Georgia
St. Benedict's Episcopal School
Interdisciplinary STEAM Specialist
Smyrna, Georgia
St. Benedict's Episcopal School
Arizona School Data Analyst - (AZVA)
Arizona, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

Assessment Biden's Testing Stance Leaves States Tough Choices. Some May Still Try to Avoid Exams
Whether to give tests in person this spring or even test students next school year instead, education leaders confront a complex path.
Flags decorate a space outside the secretary's office at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington.
Flags decorate a space outside the secretary's office at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Assessment States Still Must Give Standardized Tests This Year, Biden Administration Announces
But the administration says it would allow states to give tests in the summer or use partial exams due to challenges related to COVID-19.
3 min read
Image of students taking a test.
smolaw11/iStock/Getty
Assessment Timing of Food Stamps Can Affect Students' Test Scores, Study Finds
Hungry students don't test as well, say researchers who found a link between food stamp disbursements and students' exam scores.
5 min read
A sign advertises a program that allows food stamp recipients to use their EBT cards to shop at a farmer's market in Topsham, Maine on March 17, 2017.
Food stamps can be used in some farmers' markets, as at this one in Topsham, Maine. New research shows a link between timing of the aid and student performance on key tests.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Assessment New Mexico Asks to Skip Student Testing Again This Year
State officials are seeking permission from federal officials to waive standardized testing for another year, citing the pandemic.
3 min read