The States That Expect the Least of Their Students

The majority of states require less and less from students in order to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. In fact, when it comes to reading and math, most states set the bar far lower than what the national standards consider proficient, according to a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics. 24/7 Wall St. has identified which states require the least of their students.

The educational assessment system is a complicated one. The federal government, through the No Child Left Behind initiative, demands that each state achieves a certain level in its education system. That level is measured by the percentage of students that are considered “proficient.” Each year, more kids have to become proficient, according to the Adequate Yearly Progress measurement, or AYP. By 2014, 100% of students will have to be proficient in math and reading.

However, despite having national exams to assess 4th and 8th grade students’ math and reading levels through the National Assessment of Educational Progress, states actually control their own assessment program. What’s more, they even determine the standards, including what is considered proficient. As they aimed to meet the ever rising federal education requirements as determined by No Child Left Behind, many states have lowered their standards for what students must know. In fact, most states’ standards are far below what NAEP considers proficient, or even “basic.”

So while the statistics may show more students are passing the state’s bar, the numbers misrepresent how well they are being taught and which schools are doing poorly.

These lowered expectations ultimately hurt the children. Many students who would not normally be considered proficient at reading or math are assessed as being so. This causes them to be pushed through the educational system without gaining what many regard as a sufficient education to prepare them for later in life. As Joann Weiss, chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, told the Wall Street Journal, “Fifty different bars are not good for kids, especially as we move toward global competitiveness.”

No Child Left Behind requirements finally seem to be letting up, however. Duncan recently announced that states can apply to receive a waiver from meeting all the conditions. Many of the states that have either already applied for a waiver, or are considering it, are included on this list. The list looks at the ten states with the lowest requirements for students in 4th and 8th grade math and reading.

Although some states, such as Tennessee, have made changes in the ways they assess students since 2009, major adjustments still must be made to ensure actual proficiency among students in all states.

24/7 Wall St. used the recently released NCES state standards for 2009 to determine the states that expect the least of their students. We also looked at outside data, including AYP data from state education departments and national standardized test scores provided by NCES.

These are the ten states that expect the least of their students.

10. Kansas
Grade 4 reading: 186 (8th lowest)
Grade 4 math: 217 (16th lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 236 (12th lowest)
Grade 8 math: 265 (18th lowest)

Despite holding students to academic standards that are significantly below national standards, Kansas students score very well on national tests. This is specifically true with regards to national math exams. Kansas students score among the top ten states for both 4th and 8th grade math testing. Still, 77 of 289 Kansas school districts failed to meet rising federal requirements for reading and math proficiency for the 2010-2011 school year.

9. Michigan
Grade 4 reading: 194 (17th lowest)
Grade 4 math: 200 (2nd lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 236 (13th lowest)
Grade 8 math: 253 (8th lowest)

Michigan has among the lowest math standards, compared to other states. The passing bar for 4th grade math is the second lowest in the nation and it is not much better for 8th grade math, where it is 8th lowest. This appears to cause Michigan students to be underprepared for national math exams, on which they score 12th and 14th lowest in 4th and 8th grade, respectively. Michigan had the largest decrease of any state since 2005 in what it considers “proficient” for math. According to a recent article in the Detroit Free Press, about one in five public schools in Michigan failed to meet the No Child Left Behind academic goals for the 2010-2011 school year.

8. Illinois
Grade 4 reading: 198 (20th lowest)
Grade 4 math: 207 (5th lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 234 (10th lowest)
Grade 8 math: 251 (5th lowest)

Illinois requires exceptionally low scores for both reading and math proficiency. The state’s students scored within the bottom 20 states on national math exams for 2009. Illinois reportedly may now seek a waiver from the Department of Education that would grant it relief from meeting AYP requirements.

7. Idaho
Grade 4 reading: 186 (7th lowest)
Grade 4 math: 213 (9th lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 218 (4th lowest)
Grade 8 math: 261 (13th lowest)

For Idaho students, the proficiency levels for math and reading have increased in recent years, but the bars they must pass have been lowered. The state is now “pursuing a new assessment model that tracks individual student progress to determine if schools hit annual benchmarks set under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.” This is different from the current system, which considers progress by the percentage of students who pass state proficiency levels, reports Idaho’s Times-News. “The current federal law has taken Idaho and other states as far as it can,” Tom Luna, Idaho’s superintendent, recently wrote in a letter to Washington, according to the New York Times. “Idaho does not have the luxury of spending time and limited resources on meeting the rigid requirements of an outdated accountability system.”

6. Texas
Grade 4 reading: 188 (11th lowest)
Grade 4 math: 214 (11th lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 201 (lowest)
Grade 8 math: 254 (10th lowest)

Texas has set the lowest bar for 8th grade reading proficiency in the country. The state is in the bottom 20 states for national math scores, although it scores significantly higher than last place. According to the Houston Business Journal, 2,233 of 7,830 schools, or 29%, did not meet the national AYP requirements during the 2010-2011 school year. Duncan recently stated on Bloomberg Television that he believes the state’s education system is suffering. “Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” he said, adding that he feels “very, very badly for the children there.”

5. Virginia
Grade 4 reading: 186 (9th lowest)
Grade 4 math: 213 (10th lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 229 (6th lowest)
Grade 8 math: 251 (6th lowest)

Although Virginia has set very low standards for state exams on reading and math, the state’s students perform above average on national tests. A news release from August of this year states that Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Patricia I. Wright, believes No Child Left Behind’s accountability system “has outlived its usefulness and should be overhauled.” Wright is quoted as saying, “During the coming weeks, I will begin a discussion with the state board on creating a new model for measuring yearly progress that maintains high expectations for student achievement, recognizes growth — overall and by subgroup — and accurately identifies schools most in need of improvement.” Sixty-one percent of Virginia public schools did not meet AYP requirements in the most recent school year.

4. Georgia
Grade 4 reading: 178 (3rd lowest)
Grade 4 math: 218 (18th lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 209 (2nd lowest)
Grade 8 math: 247 (3rd lowest)

Georgia has among the lowest proficiency bars in the country for 4th grade reading and 8th grade reading and math. The state performs within the bottom 20 states on national exams for all four categories considered for this ranking. For the 2010-2011 school year, 37% of Georgia schools fell short of AYP criteria. Georgia is now seeking a waiver to excuse itself from meeting AYP requirements.

3. Colorado
Grade 4 reading: 183 (6th lowest)
Grade 4 math: 202 (3rd lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 228 (5th lowest)
Grade 8 math: 256 (11th lowest)

Colorado, like Virginia, sets very low standards for state-level tests, yet scores above average on national tests. As of 2010, 62% of Colorado schools met AYP standards, up from 60% in 2009, according to the Colorado Department of Education. These numbers are misleading, however, as the state lowered its standards for each category between 2007 and 2009, except for 4th grade mathematics. According to the Denver Post, the state may apply for a waiver from the federal government to free itself from some accountability requirements. Patrick Chapman, the state education department’s director of federal programs, told the paper that they “don’t want flexibility just for the sake of flexibility” and would do whatever would help maintain “rigorous accountability systems and … options for students and families.”

2. Alabama
Grade 4 reading: 179 (4th lowest)
Grade 4 math: 207 (4th lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 234 (9th lowest)
Grade 8 math: 246 (2nd lowest)

In addition to having some of the lowest standards in the country for reading and math, Alabama has the second-lowest national standardized scores for 4th and 8th grade math and is in the bottom 10 states for 4th and 8th grade reading. Alabama did not significantly change its standards between 2007 and 2009, except in 8th grade math, which dropped seven NAEP points. More recently, the state has begun doing worse at meeting AYP requirements. In 2010, 75% of Alabama’s public schools met AYP standards. For 2011, the rate dropped to 72%.

1. Tennessee
Grade 4 reading: 170 (lowest)
Grade 4 math: 195 (lowest)
Grade 8 reading: 211 (3rd lowest)
Grade 8 math: 229 (lowest)

In 2009, Tennessee held some of the lowest standards for students in the country, including 4th grade reading and math and 8th grade math. Since that year, however, the state has made significant efforts to increase its educational requirements. The downside is that a far smaller percentage of students are considered to be proficient in their studies. For example, before the state’s alterations, 91% of students were considered proficient in math. Now only 34% of students are considered proficient. Arne Duncan praised the state for finally deciding to “tell the truth.”

Charles B. Stockdale

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