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ERIC Number: ED521964
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Feb-1
Pages: 7
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 3
State Standards and Student Growth: Why State Standards Don't Matter as Much as We Thought
Dahlin, Michael; Xiang, Yun; Durant, Sarah; Cronin, John
Northwest Evaluation Association
The goal of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was to ensure that states set educational standards in core academic subjects, and to hold schools accountable for ensuring that all students meet these standards. Given the inflexibility of NCLB's AYP (adequate yearly progress) targets and the federal line drawn in the sand for 2014, critics have expressed concern that states, particularly those with high academic proficiency standards, must eventually choose between easing their standards to the point that even the lowest performing students can meet them, or face increasing federal sanctions of schools, including loss of funds, forced reallocations of students within districts, and eventually, school closures. Other criticisms have focused on NCLB's use of proficiency rates as the school performance metric, since it only holds schools accountable for the performance of students that are below their state proficiency standards. Students whose performance exceeds their state proficiency standards exert no influence on school outcomes, and NCLB does not require schools to ensure that students performing above state proficiency standards make any kind of progress at all (Loveless, Farkas, and Duffett, 2008). Implicit in these trends are two assumptions. The first assumption is that lowering the proficiency cut scores negatively impacts student performance and growth. The second is that the implied focus of the current accountability system on nearly- or non-proficient (i.e., "bubble") students has negative consequences for higher performing, already-proficient ones. The Kingsbury Center at NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) is home to one of the nation's largest repositories of information about student academic growth, so they examined these two assumptions using growth data collected from hundreds of thousands of students across the country, a small sample from the millions of student records hosted within the Kingsbury Center's Growth Research Database. Specifically, the authors examined two questions: (1) After accounting for differences attributable to poverty, race, gender, amount of instruction received, and pertinent level school factors, does the difficulty of a state's proficiency standards bear any relationship to student academic growth?; and (2) Do students that are above their state's proficiency standard demonstrate less growth, relative to their peers, than do students performing below the level of their state proficiency standards? They investigated these questions separately for four samples of roughly 100,000 students, one sample each for third and eighth grade students, and for reading and mathematics. Across all four samples, the authors found that a student's status relative to his or her state proficiency bar had an effect on growth, and that students below the proficiency bar showed greater growth than those above it. This tends to validate concerns that NCLB may be focusing the energy of educators on "bubble" students, or students below the state proficiency cut score who might help the school meet its Adequate Yearly Progress requirement if they were to become proficient during the school year. However, the prevailing wisdom that lower proficiency standards lead to poorer student outcomes was observed in only one of four conditions. In the case of third grade mathematics, lower state standards did indeed predict modestly poorer growth. However, this relationship did not persist into middle school, and it was not seen at all in reading. In other words, in three of the four cases examined, student growth bore no relationship to whether states set their academic proficiency standards high or low. (Contains 5 figures and 1 footnote.)
Northwest Evaluation Association. 121 NW Everett Street, Portland, OR 97209. Tel: 503-624-1951; Fax: 503-639-7873; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education; Grade 3; Grade 8
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Northwest Evaluation Association