By John Cronin, Michael Dahlin, Deborah Adkins, and G. Gage Kingsbury
“The Proficiency Illusion” reveals that the tests that states use to measure academic progress under the No Child Left Behind Act are creating a false impression of success, especially in reading and especially in the early grades.
The report, a collaboration of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association, contains several major findings:
- States are aiming particularly low when it comes to their expectations for younger children, setting
elementary students up to fail as they progress through their academic careers.
- The central flaw in NCLB is that it allows each state to set its own definition of what constitutes “proficiency.”
- By mandating that all students reach “proficiency” by 2014, it tempts states to define proficiency downward.
- Although there has not been a “race to the bottom,” with the majority of states dramatically lowering standards under pressure from NCLB, the report did find a “walk to the middle,” as some states with high standards saw their expectations drop toward the middle of the pack.
- In most states, math tests are consistently more difficult to pass than reading tests.
- Eighth-grade tests are sharply harder to pass in most states than those in earlier grades (even after taking into account obvious differences in subject-matter complexity and children’s academic development).
As a result, students may be performing worse in reading, and worse in elementary school, than is readily apparent by looking at passing rates on state tests.