Proficient in Texas, but not in Missouri

Most states don’t match federal proficiency standards for elementary math and reading, a new federal report concludes.

Eight states have raised standards in recent years. South Carolina has lowered its standards, though the new superintendent pledges to raise the bar.

The National Center for Education Statistics compares state requirements to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

In fourth-grade reading, for example, 35 states set passing bars that are below the “basic” level on the national NAEP exam. “Basic” means students have a satisfactory understanding of material, as opposed to “proficient,” which means they have a solid grasp of it. Massachusetts is the only state to set its bar at “proficient”—and that was only in fourth- and eighth-grade math.

The report shows huge disparities among the standards states set when their tests are converted to the NAEP’s 500-point scale. In eighth-grade reading, for example, there is a 60-point difference between Texas, which has the lowest passing bar, and Missouri, which has the highest, according to the data. In eighth-grade math, there is a 71-point spread between the low, Tennessee, and the high, Massachusetts.

A Tennessee eighth grader could be considered proficient without being able to read a graph, while a Massachusetts student meeting the proficiency benchmark “would likely be able to solve a math problem using algebra and geometry.”

About Joanne

Comments

  1. “A Tennessee eighth grader could be considered proficient without being able to read a graph, while a Massachusetts student meeting the proficiency benchmark “would likely be able to solve a math problem using algebra and geometry.” ”

    That’s because Massachusetts is a strong union state where teachers have solid workers’ rights and job protection, and Tennessee is a right-to-work state where teachers have no job protection and can be fired at will.

    Strong unions lead to higher standards. Lack of job protection for teachers leads to low standards. End of story.

    (I’ve decided to stop being so purist and decree that correlation DOES equal causation. The rest of the press thinks it does, so why should I be holier-than-thou about it?)

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    Caroline — the difference between MA and TN has nothing to do with the union. The problems have been there ages before the union bill was passed this LAST legislative session. Tennessee had incredibly low standards, weaker curriculum and low, low cut scores on it TCAP and EOC exams.

    TN probably has extremely weak teachers in the classrooms that need the strong ones. The data is out that of all the teacher training schools in TN on Vanderbilt and TFA teachers consistently improve their students results. The rest are neutral to negative.

    Tennessee raised its standards two school years ago. The proficient rates dropped by 50% or more. Finally! Now, we agreed to adapt the CSS which I understand are a little weaker than what we have in place today. Why the country wasn’t urged to adopt the MA standards and the MCAT (is this the MA test?) is beyond me.

    Please do your homework on TN.

    Also, it is very rare in TN that kids get to take Algebra I in 8th grade, much less 7th and geometry in 8th grade, much less 9th. Just a few years ago, when my younger one was in middle school, those that could master the two subjects could take them in middle school. Our challenge was the kids still needed fours years of math in high school (TN has now made this a requirement) and we did not have the qualified (not certified but qualified) teachers to fill these classes in every high school nor did we have the strong math teachers in elementary and middle in every school to insure the kids have the strong foundation in math to go through calculus or beyond in high school.

    Anything else you want to know? Just ask…

  3. tim-10-ber says:

    A major problem with the article and with education statistics is they are well behind the times (2007 vs spring 2011 results which have been released). Look at Tennessee’s need standards (seriously, someone please tell me what they require) and look at the TCAP results for the past two years…they have dropped dramatically because TN finally, finally decided to move its way out of the education basement. It will take time but my hat is off to them for finally doing this — education is for the kids right? we just need the right adults leading the effort and in the classroom…

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    tim-10-ber, The Massachusetts tests are the MCAS. Originally, it was going to be the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. It began as two tests, an English Language Arts and a Mathematics, given at separate times in grades 5, 8, and 10. There is now also a science test ( given at yet a third time), a general science in 8th grade, and subject tests in 9th grade. At one point, there was going to be a history test but the present governor is not a fan, and that test never got beyond the development phase.

    Caroline, the Massachusetts teachers unions were opposed to MCAS. The union supported the election and re-election of the present governor.

    I hope you weren’t being serious with your “other people do the wrong thing so I will too” comment.

  5. gallowshillbilly says:

    The sequence of events in SC goes like this:

    1980’s – State implemented a program based on basic skills, which included an exit exam for high school.

    1990’s – The state raised standards with a new program that included more advanced reading, math, science, and history topics – an attempt to go beyond basic skills. Cut scores were ambitious, especially at the advanced level.

    2000’s – Since SC had established its definitions of “proficient”and “advanced” before NCLB, it had to live with these cut scores as the law took effect. At least in
    SC, it seems that NCLB pressures did contribute to lower standards and less informative testing information. The elementary level test now has only three levels (not met, met, exemplary) as opposed to four (below basic, basic, proficient, advanced)

    The irony is that SC was sincerely trying to become a better state educationally, but NCLB has distorted our priorities.

  6. I wasn’t being serious, Roger, though people who wish to mislead routinely take advantage of the mass press cluelessness about the fact that correlation doesn’t equal causation, so really it’s not fair that I don’t get to as well. Ed “reformers” certainly take advantage of it whenever they can, so why am I held to a standard of honesty that they sneer at? (Still being facetious — sort of.)

    Seriously, the factors that correlate with weak to no union power also correlate with low academic achievement, and the converse is true.

    However, the fact that states with strong teachers’ unions are consistently the highest academic achievers and states with weak to no teachers’ unions are consistently the lowest does conclusively disprove all claims that job security for teachers leads to lower achievement.

    I call BS on claims that TFA’s untrained, inexperienced, bright-eyed temps “consistently improve their students’ results.” Whenever those TFA “It’s a miracle!” PR claims are investigated, they crumble.

  7. Stuart Buck says:

    However, the fact that states with strong teachers’ unions are consistently the highest academic achievers and states with weak to no teachers’ unions are consistently the lowest does conclusively disprove all claims that job security for teachers leads to lower achievement.

    No, it does nothing of the sort. All that it conceivably shows is that unionization is far from the only thing affecting achievement. But it could easily still be the case that Massachusetts would do even better if less unionized (for example, Mass. would have had a much easier time establishing academic standards for high school graduation without the fierce opposition of unions), and Tennessee might do even worse if more unionized.

    That’s why social science exists: to try to tell us how X (unionization) affects Y (achievement) even when other factors are at play.

  8. Wrong, Stuart. Some of the more extreme ed “reformers” claim that eliminating teachers’ rights and job security is the key to improving student achievement.

    We have a large-scale model right in front of our eyes.

    Consistently, the states with strong unions and teacher job security are the highest achievers, and the states with no unions and no teacher job security are the lowest.

    That conclusively shows that teacher job security does not cause low achievement and lack of teacher jobs security does not lead to high achievement. Those ed “reformers” are wrong. Period.

    Conclusively, indisputably, no matter who tries to bluster and dispute it.

  9. Stuart Buck says:

    Caroline, it conclusively shows only that unionization isn’t the only thing affecting student achievement. But it does not show or imply anything whatsoever about whether limiting unionization would help academic achievement to some extent. That’s an elementary principle of social science.

    Maybe an analogy would help. Imagine two tribes, the As and the Bs. As smoke a lot, much more than Bs. Yet As have a longer lifespan than Bs. So a bunch of pro-smoking activists start saying, “Hey, here’s proof that smoking can’t possibly harm health. As smoke more than Bs, but they live longer. That is conclusive and indisputable proof that smoking isn’t bad for your health.”

    But suppose it turns out that As are different from Bs in many other ways. They have a totally different diet, they live in a different climate, they have different diseases to which they are prone, and they get way more exercise. Given all of these many factors that affect lifespan, one can no longer say that the longer A lifespan says anything at all about the harmfulness of smoking.

    In fact, it can still be the case that smoking is very harmful — maybe As, given all of their other advantages, would live even longer if they weren’t held back by smoking, and maybe Bs would live even shorter lives if they added smoking to their already-long list of harmful attributes.

  10. Stuart Buck says:

    Moreover, to get to your last point, I don’t know that there’s any such thing as “states with no teacher job security.” Even right-to-work states typically have due process protections (and Ravitch assures us that tenure means nothing more than due process) for teachers written into state law.

    In Arkansas, there’s the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, which you can easily find via Google.

    In Texas, teachers have probationary status for three years, and then are granted “continuing contracts.” This isn’t called “tenure,” but a continuing contract means that teachers can be fired only for “good cause” (see section 21.156 here: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/ED/pdf/ED.21.pdf ), and that teachers fired for good cause have the right to a hearing (section 21.159). That’s due process, which is all that tenure means, right?

  11. Stuart Buck says:

    Caroline, you ought to read page 17 of this paper on collective bargaining before making such stark claims about differences between states: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/BetterBargain.pdf

  12. That’s because Massachusetts is a strong union state where teachers have solid workers’ rights and job protection, and Tennessee is a right-to-work state where teachers have no job protection and can be fired at will.

    If the Mass. unionized teachers are so great, how well do their students from certain racial minorities perform?

    That’s what it takes to separate the effects of teaching from the inherent genetic and cultural endowment of the population of MA.  Tennessee, IIUC, is largely Scots-Irish which is drawn from a different group of Europeans than New Englanders.  The teachers can’t be properly credited or blamed for the capabilities and disabilities the kids bring from home.  Only when those are separated out can you see the real efect of teachers, unionized or not.

  13. CarolineSF says:

    I didn’t say Mass. unionized teachers were great, Engineer-Poet (that’s a rather imprecise reading for an engineer, I have to say). Nor did I mention the effect of teachers.

    I said strongly unionized states correlate with the highest academic achievement, which is a fact.

    And I’ve repeatedly pointed out that correlation doesn’t equal causation.

    You ARE veering into the excuse-making for which more and more commentators are calling out the supposed “no excuses” ed reformers, though.

    Facts repeated again: the strongest union states show the highest academic achievement. The right-to-work states (Stuart’s bluster aside) show the lowest. The notion that eliminating teachers’ job security correlates with higher achievement is conclusively false.

    Remember, no excuses. You guys are the ones who have been saying that over and over for years. Sauce for the goose.

  14. Stuart Buck says:

    The right-to-work states (Stuart’s bluster aside) show the lowest. The notion that eliminating teachers’ job security correlates with higher achievement is conclusively false.

    Did you skip over the point about job security existing even in “right-to-work” states? I posted it at 3:02 pm. You ought to take the time to read it, otherwise you look simply uninformed.

    • CarolineSF says:

      Excuses excuses excuses, Stuart Buck. (And wriggling, hair-splitting and general dishonesty.)

      Cranberry, I clearly have said over and over that correlation doesn’t equal causation. But the fact is that unionized states with high teacher job security correlate with the highest achievement. You can’t make excuses for that; it’s just true. End of story.

      • Stuart Buck says:

        Caroline, that isn’t a persuasive refutation. Show me a state that really does have “no job security” for teachers — and that means reading state education codes for non-union states (as I’ve already shown, education law often contains tenure-like protections even in states that you ignorantly describe as having “no job security”).

        As for unionization in general, unionized states tend to correlate with high achievement IF you don’t control for any other factors or consider what happens over time. You’re right about that. But what you don’t seem to understand is that your observation isn’t interesting or even relevant; it proves absolutely nothing about what unionization actually does. What would be relevant would be if you could tell whether achievement tends to grow (or drop) within the same states as unionization changes over time.

        A good example of such a study was this Yale piece on New Mexico, which dropped collective bargaining for a while and then restored it. http://www.yalelawjournal.org/the-yale-law-journal/content-pages/the-impact-of-teacher-collective-bargaining–laws-on-student-achievement:-evidence–from-a-new-mexico-natural-experiment/ The finding was that “mandatory teacher bargaining laws increase the performance of high-achieving students while simultaneously lowering the performance of poorly achieving students.”

  15. Cranberry says:

    The higher Massachusetts standards are not directly related to the unions. Rather, they’re the products of the Massachusetts Department of Education’s long-term, concerted effort to raise standards, under John Silber, James Peyser, and David Driscoll.

    Abigail Thernstrom was on the board of education at that time as well.

    The catastrophic first iteration of the teacher licensure test also contributed to raising the standards for teachers in Massachusetts. http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Teachers/flunk.html It was exceedingly embarrassing for education schools when almost 60% of the candidates failed the test, after attending education schools.

    Massachusetts has very different demographics than Texas. “On the plus side, we are incredibly educated – we have the highest percentage of college graduates in the country. In sheer dollars and cents, we make more than most of our fellow Americans. We are rich in diversity with 25% of residents being immigrants or racial minorities or both.” http://tinyurl.com/4ygxp8n

    http://tinyurl.com/yoa6fg
    http://tinyurl.com/3t4ztj7

    Compare the demographics of Texas and Massachusetts, and it’s obvious that Massachusetts’ schoolchildren have a number of advantages over their Texan peers. They are more likely to come from an affluent, educated household. They are more likely to speak English at home. And so on…

  16. tim-10-ber says:

    In Tennessee’s right to work state something good is happening, a lot actually, at the average ACT at the state’s flagship public college continues to rise…this is higher than some of the private schools in Tennessee..the HOPE scholarship has been a huge help…now to extend this across the UT system…the Board of Regent’s System is hurting and I don’t know if they will ever catch up…

    http://www.wsmv.com/story/15263454/utk-freshman-class-has-highest-act-scores-ever

    UTK freshman class has highest ACT scores ever

    Posted: Aug 13, 2011 11:16 PM
    Updated: Aug 13, 2011 11:23 PM

    KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) –
    The University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s incoming freshman class has the highest average ACT score in the school’s history.

    Freshmen beginning classes on Wednesday have an average score on the ACT college entrance exam of 26.7. That’s 0.3 points higher than last year, according to a news release from the school.

    Those scores also rank the freshmen among the top 8% of students statewide.

    About 99% of the in-state, incoming freshmen qualified for Tennessee’slottery-funded HOPE scholarship, which has been a factor in the significant rise in freshman qualifications over the last several years.

    Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said that serving such high-ability students fuels school officials’ determination to elevate the school’s programs and facilities.

    Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  17. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Does anyone remember Iowahawk’s statistics on TX v. WI from a few months ago?
    http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2011/03/longhorns-17-badgers-1.html

    Basically, TX actually does a better job educating each subgroup than other states (Wisconsin, in this case.) The difference is that TX has a higher population of blacks and hispanics, so even though they do a better-than-average job with white minority students, their overall state scores are lower for all students because the racial mix is different.

    Is it really fair to compare a more diverse state like TX to a less diverse one like MA (where even the people in the projects are Irish?)

    • Deidre –
      “Is it really fair to compare a more diverse state like TX to a less diverse one like MA ?”

      With regards to academic standards, yes. Expectations of various levels of success, no.

  18. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Also, according to the 2010 Census, TX is 45% non-hispanic white. MA is 76% non-hispanic white. Don’t you think this might have some effect on the scores? I’d think that the makeup of the student body would have more to do with scores than whether or not teachers had unions and good pensions….. (After all, most private school teachers have no job security, no union, lousy pay and no pension, yet their students excel…..)

  19. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Oh! Some of these last comments should have been in reply to comments above, but I didn’t realize there was threading now! Wow, big change!