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On the bottom again. NAEP report says Georgia asks less of its students than other states


Why does Georgia ask less of its students than other states? And given that fact, why would anyone in Georgia encourage locally owned and locally grown standards, as does our new state school superintendent and some legislators?

From what the data tells us, including a new federal scorecard released today, our locally grown standards provide little academic sustenance. Or we set the bar to demonstrate proficiency on those standards so low that we undermine them.

In view of these new dismal findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we need to know which it is -- I suspect it is the assessments. The state says the new state exams, the hastily produced Georgia Milestones, will correct the problem.

A state Department of Education spokesman reiterated today the Georgia Milestones scores, expected in the fall, will incorporate much higher expectations for proficiency and should better align with NAEP. (That means parents ought to be bracing for lower scores than they have seen in the past.)

In the past, Georgia has had a wide gap in what we deemed proficient and what NAEP designated as proficient. Georgia's gap is drawing attention today. In it story on the new NAEP report, the Washington Post reported:

The new report from the National Center for Educational Statistics compares students’ performance on their own state tests in 2013 to their performance on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Performance, or NAEP, the only national exam that allows an apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement across state lines.

A fourth-grade student must score at least 238 on NAEP’s 500-point scale in order to be considered proficient in reading on that test; students who score below 208 are considered to have “below basic” knowledge.

But Georgia, for example, has a much lower bar: proficiency on its state test is equivalent to a score of just 167 on NAEP, according to the analysis. New York has a higher bar than NAEP: Its proficiency bar is equivalent to a score of 243 on NAEP.

And here is what Huffington Post had to say about Georgia this morning:

Most states set their standards within NAEP’s “basic” range, and very few state standards measured up to NAEP’s aspirational proficiency standard, which measures “mastery over challenging subject matter.” In fourth-grade reading, though, most states set their cutoff for proficiency below NAEP’s “basic” level. In that subject and grade level, states’ cutoff points spanned a range of 76 points on NAEP, a 500-point test. Overall, New York, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Texas had the highest standards. Ohio, Georgia and Alabama fell toward the bottom. In eighth-grade reading, Georgia lagged particularly behind: Its standard for proficiency was 199, a full 18 points below the second-to-lowest state, Idaho.

For some reason, Georgia has always underestimated its schools, teachers and students, now asking less than even neighboring Southern states we once outpaced.  How is Tennessee now lapping us?

In response to this new NAEP report, DOE sent me this statement:

“This NAEP report points only to the bar that has been set for state proficiency levels on our former CRCT, which we know was too low,” said Melissa Fincher, deputy superintendent, assessment and accountability for the state Department of Education. “It does not have anything to do with actual performance. Our students made gains on the 2013 NAEP results (i.e. 4th grade reading was one point above the nation, so we are not last in the nation in 4th grade reading as some might interpret the report to indicate). The public will likely see the results of the bar being increased on our new Georgia Milestones when scores come out in the fall. Bottom line is that our students’ performance is not last in the nation, it’s a complex mapping study that shows our bar for proficiency on the CRCT was too low.”

Here is what the AJC's Marlon A. Walker reports on the NAEP study :

The study, “Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: Results From the 2013 NAEP Reading and Mathematics Assessments,” uses a formula to compare what states define as proficient in math and reading, then maps those scores on its own scale in measuring progress.

Georgia came in dead last in the rigor of its reading proficiency standards in both fourth and eighth grades, and near last in math.

Known as “the nation’s report card,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress has for years sought to create an apples-to-apples comparison by state of learning standards for math and writing skills.

States individually developed their own standards to assess and measure how much students have learned to become proficient in math and reading. The National Assessment of Educational Progress was created to directly compare student proficiency standards from state to state. Since 1969, NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, has been administered periodically to students at grades 4, 8, and 12.

Georgia’s standards – its expectations of what students ought to learn in math and reading by 4th and 8th grades — were at or near the bottom in the 2013 measurements, and fell into NAEP’s “below basic” achievement level when compared to other states.

4th grade reading standards*

47. Arkansas

48. Alabama

49. Idaho

50. Ohio

51. Georgia

4th grade mathematics standards

47. South Carolina

48. Idaho

49. Georgia

50. Maryland

51. Alabama

8th grade reading

47. Arkansas

48. Utah

49. Ohio

50. Idaho

51. Georgia

8th grade mathematics standards

47. District of Columbia

48. Ohio

49. Georgia

50. Alabama

51. Connecticut

*including District of Columbia


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.