Not As Good As You Think

"Proficient" Students in Michigan Aren't Really All That Proficient

A new report by the National Center for Education Statistics contains some bad news for Michigan schools. When compared to proficiency standards on national tests, Michigan's self-proclaimed "proficient" students score near the bottom in the country.

The NCES study compares state-defined proficiency with that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This process measures the strength of each state's standardized tests and cut scores. It addresses whether a student who is "proficient" by State A's standards would also be "proficient" by State B's standards. In most cases, it's much easier to be marked proficient in Michigan than almost any other state.

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Michigan just got done patting itself on the back for having more schools make Adequate Yearly Progress. The NCES report shows that these self-congratulations may have been unwarranted, and that  judging student achievement or schools by AYP measures doesn't hold much weight.

In fourth-grade reading and math, Michigan students proclaimed "proficient" by the state ranked 44th and 46th out of 48 states based on the NAEP, respectively (data from Nebraska and Utah was unavailable). In eighth-grade reading and math, the numbers improve, but still aren't very good. Math students scored 37th of 47 (California also not included) and reading scores were 35th of 48.

Obviously, this plays right into the hands of supporters of national standards. They'll claim this study proves we need a streamlined method for evaluating schools among the states.

Remember, though, that we only need standardized tests because we have no other way of judging a school's performance. Government-run schooling is a monopoly, and we can only hold that monopoly accountable by creating some arbitrary standards and testing students against those standards.

If, on the other hand, we allowed parents to choose their children's schools (and not just parents with the means to pay for private tuition or move to another district), this debate over standards would end. Parents would ultimately hold schools accountable to their set of standards.