What does "proficiency" mean? In many U.S. states, not much.
A new report confirms what we already knew : Many states set the bar in reading and math much, much lower than the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) does. In both 4th and 8th grade math, only one state--Massachusetts--set the bar for proficiency at or above "proficiency" as defined by NAEP. Nine states set the bar for "proficiency" in 4th grade math so low that it would rate as "below basic" on NAEP. Things look even worse in 8th grade math, where 11 states are aiming for "below basic." What most other states consider proficient would rate as "basic" on NAEP.
Perhaps most shocking is the extreme inconsistency among states. A student deemed "proficient" in Savannah could could fall far below that mark if she moved to Seattle. And yet math is math whether you're in Georgia or Washington. More important, the demand for math skills may soon be pretty much the same whether you live in Savannah, Seattle or Shanghai.
The push towards common standards and tests might remedy this situation. Time will tell. The challenge will be to set an appropriate bar and then stick with it. As it stands in too many states, good just isn't good enough.