« NEA Lawsuit Shows Mixed-Up Politics of NCLB | Main | States Prepare for 'Reading First' Cuts »

NCLB and the Meaning of Proficiency

| 10 Comments

In this comment on a previous post, a mom says that the goal of 100 percent proficiency is possible. Using the real-life example of her dyslexic son, she says that students can make dramatic progress. But can they all reach proficiency?

That question would be a lot easier to answer if everyone knew what proficiency means. As I reported last year, nobody can agree on the definition. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings says that it means students achieving at grade level, as she repeated again at the National Press Club last week.

But does everybody believe that? In its statement of purpose, the law says that states' definitions of proficiency should be "challenging." It says nothing about average performance. What's more, the law also requires states to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress to hold states' definitions up to a common benchmark. Advocates use those scores to say that states are setting the bar too low. (For just two examples, see here and here.) But NAEP's proficiency definition is so challenging that not even those countries with the highest performance on international tests would meet NCLB's goal of universal proficiency, Richard Rothstein argues in this 2006 paper and the American Institutes for Research concludes in this 2007 analysis.

It may be true that all students can make dramatic gains in their achievement. Maybe all of them can reach grade-level performance. But can they all reach the level of challenging standards?

10 Comments

Ah, yes, cut scores as machismo.

All students on "grade level"? Sounds like a reasonable goal until you stop and consider the meaning of grade level: scoring at the 50th percentile for a given grade.

There's only one way that could ever be achieved. All students must score the same.

This is what grade level means to me: Classes have a standards based curriculum, and students are able to be successful on tests based on this curriculum, with success being achieving at least 70%.
I don't believe 100% proficiency is possible based on this. Your reader's story of her son is remarkable. I agree that teachers are not trained to help students with dyslexia. But a learning disorder is different than an IQ of 70.

An Ed Secretary named Margaret
Thinks grade level’s a reasonable target:
All children have the potential
To score above the 50th percentile.
Can you see the flaw in this logic?

Conclusion: Either Education Secretary Spellings is unaware of educational terminology or needs help in basic math.

You might be interested in a short paper in a peer-reviewd online journal that searched NAEP documents for the meaning of Proficient as used by NAEP entitled "Using NAEP to Confirm State Test Results in the No Child Left Behind Act." It's available online at:
http://www.pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=12&n=5

The number one problem with NCLB is the inconsistency between states in how they define "proficient." Consider the game of "hoops". If one were to be considered "proficient" at free throws in Texas by making 3 out of 10 but in S.C. one had to make 8 out of 10, where on earth would that be an "even playing field?" Until we get the fortitude to create a national set of educational standards, a national assessment, and a national understanding of the meaning of proficient, education in America will not move forward. In an effort to preclude failure, many states have set their standards and their assessments so low that NCLB has, in some cases, had the reverse effect of "dumbing down" America. Who out there has the guts and the nerve to tackle this issue? I have not heard even one of the presidental candidates address this issue.

NAEP's Proficient level of reading is grade-specific. Reading at a grade's Proficient level is essential for processing the grade's assigned textbooks with reasonable ease and profit. Proficient-level ability is a minimum ability, not an average. Every student whose "listening" (auding)ability is Proficient (normal)is capable of attaining his grade's Proficient level in reading.

English Language Learner students by definition are not proficient in English. When they become so, they are removed from the subgroup of ELLs.Yet this is one of the subgroups that is expected to "close the gap." Is there anyone out there (besides the writers of NCLB) who doesn't see a problem here?

[To Hoff re my comment today (Thurs):I tried the bring up the links, but was unsuccesful, so I went back to the article. Be that as it may, if by "reply" you meant had in mind that rather pointless comment on ELL:]

When an ELL student reaches Basic or worse reading levels in English, he or she has the same need as all other poor readers in our schools for grade-appropriate upgrades to (at least) Proficient, NAEP's "just adequate" reading level. Upgrade to NAEP's {"beyond merely adequate") Advanced level is even more desirable.

---Marty Weiss

Proficient-level ability is a minimum ability, not an average. Every student whose "listening" (auding)ability is Proficient (normal)is capable of attaining his grade's Proficient level in reading.

But how does that definition of proficient fit with the idea of setting challenging standards for proficiency?

Either proficient is a minimum, or it's challenging. It can't be both.

Comments are now closed for this post.

Advertisement

Recent Comments

  • Rachel: Proficient-level ability is a minimum ability, not an average. Every read more
  • Martin Weiss: [To Hoff re my comment today (Thurs):I tried the bring read more
  • Sheila Krstevski: English Language Learner students by definition are not proficient in read more
  • Martin Weiss: NAEP's Proficient level of reading is grade-specific. Reading at a read more
  • V Megee: The number one problem with NCLB is the inconsistency between read more

Archives

Technorati

Technorati search

» Blogs that link here