Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales: Results From the 2015 NAEP Reading and Mathematics Assessments

October 1, 2018

Standardized tests play a critical role in tracking and comparing K-12 student progress across time, student demographics, and governing bodies (states, cities, districts).  Each individual state establishes its own curricula, standardized tests, and achievement (proficiency) standards.  As these decisions vary significantly across states and time, it becomes difficult to establish common metrics that would assess the true picture of a state’s performance. One methodology is to benchmark the each state’s proficiency standards against those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.  This study does just that.  Using NAEP as a common yardstick allows a comparison of different state assessments. The results confirm the wide variation in proficiency standards across states.  It also documents that the significant majority of states have standards are much lower than those established by the NAEP.

At the national level, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test is the gold standard.  It has been administered annually since 1970 and establishes student achievement standards using rigorous and independent evaluation methodology to ensure they are reasonable, valid, and informative.  The achievement levels (Basic, Proficient, and Advanced) identify what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in a specific subject area. Students performing at or above the Proficient level on NAEP assessments demonstrate solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter.  Proficiency is the target academic performance benchmark for students.

The study provides two sets of data regarding this issue: (1) how the individual state standards themselves compare to NAEP standards and (2) where students would have been placed for both the state and national tests.  In 2015, only two states had proficiency standards for reading at the same range as those of NAEP.  Forty-one states had proficiency standards that corresponded with the Basic Level in NAEP.    One state had standards that corresponded with below Basic.  In other words, the achievement levels in most states for being identified as proficient are much lower than those identified by NAEP.

The second analysis examined the percent of students identified as proficient in each state and compares it to the percent of the same student population that would be considered proficient by NAEP standards.  For example, Louisiana standards identified 66.8% of its students as being proficient across reading and math, only 24.8 % of the students would have been classified as proficient by NAEP.  In Nebraska, 76.2% of students were classified as proficient as opposed to only 40.2% meeting the proficiency standard for NAEP.

Citation: Bandeira de Mello, V., Rahman, T., and Park, B.J. (2018). Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: Results From the 2015 NAEP Reading and Mathematics Assessments (NCES 2018-159). U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.