Behind the Headline: Another State Redefines ‘Proficiency’ on Common Core Tests, Inflating Performance

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Another State Redefines ‘Proficiency’ on Common Core Tests, Inflating Performance
Washington Post | 10/12/15

Behind the Headline
States Raise Proficiency Standards in Math and Reading
Education Next | Summer 2015

The Arkansas Department of Education has announced that students who score at level 3 or above on new Common Core tests will be deemed “proficient,” even though the makers of the test say that only students who score at level 4 or above are on track to graduate from high school with the skills they need to be ready for college or a career.

Ohio has made the same decision to redefine what is meant by “proficient.” In both states, students take tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

As Emma Brown explains

Arkansas claims that 60 percent of its Algebra I students are proficient, while fewer than half that many — just 28 percent — would be considered on track had Arkansas stuck with PARCC’s more stringent definition of “proficient.”

Similarly, Arkansas says that 64 percent of its high school freshmen are proficient in reading. But had the state used PARCC’s definition, that would have dropped to 36 percent.

She notes

Critics slammed state officials, saying they made a politically convenient decision that leaves parents and policymakers in the dark about the real performance of Arkansas students.

One of the goals of the Common Core was to make comparisons across states possible by measuring all students with the same yardstick. Another goal was to give students and parents a more accurate understanding of how prepared students are, or are on track to be, for college or a career.


Before the Common Core, states set their own proficiency standards, which led to difficulty in making comparisons across states and, in some states, published proficiency rates that were falsely inflated.

For the past six years, Education Next has published an analysis of the rigor of state proficiency standards.

Each state is given a grade each year based on the difference between the percentages of students identified as proficient by the state and the percentage identified by NAEP as being proficient. In general, proficiency standards set by states have been much lower than those set by NAEP, but an analysis published this summer found that many states were raising their proficiency standards.

For more please read “States Raise Proficiency Standards in Math and Reading,” by Paul E. Peterson and Matthew Ackerman, in the Summer 2015 issue of Education Next.

– Education Next

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