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Study finds ‘honesty gap’ between state, national student testing

Confirming what the state’s top education official has been saying for months, a new report suggests student scores on Nevada proficiency exams don’t accurately reflect math and reading achievement.

The so-called “honesty gap” study, released Thursday by the nonprofit education reform group Achieve, shows a 42-point discrepancy between the Nevada-reported proficiency scores in fourth-grade reading compared to the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. In contrast, Achieve credited Nevada on its Top Truth-Tellers list for having a much smaller performance gap in eighth-grade math.

Commonly called the Nation’s Report Card, the NAEP exams last year recorded a reading proficiency rate of less than 30 percent among fourth-graders tested in Nevada. The state, however, reported a proficiency rate of nearly 70 percent based on its own basic skills testing.

In eighth-grade math, the “honesty gap” narrowed, with Nevada reporting about a 40 percent proficiency rate compared to the approximately 30 percent of students found to be proficient or better on the NAEP tests.

Unlike state proficiency tests, NAEP only tests a small sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students at select campuses in each state and compares the results to create a national “yardstick” to measure student progress. Nevada, meanwhile, must test all third- to eighth-grade students, even those with disabilities and limited language skills, and requires participation at every campus.

Across the nation, Achieve found more than half of all states demonstrated a 30-point discrepancy between their reported proficiency rates and NAEP results. Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas each had a more than 40-point gap in both fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math.

The report from Washington, D.C.-based Achieve — formed by state governors and business leaders in 1996 — did not surprise Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga, who in August 2014 told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial board that NAEP provided a truer indicator of whether students are on track for college and career.

However, Erquiaga on Wednesday stressed that new Common Core standards adopted in English and math, with an upcoming transition to higher standards in science, will better align state testing to the Nation’s Report Card.

“We’re owning up but still need to do a better job of giving mom and dad — and taxpayers — a more honest assessment of how proficient our students will be,” Erquiaga said. “I think we’ve moved past the day when we try to explain away our under-performance.”

While the Achieve report shows room for improvement in Nevada’s “honesty gap,” it also shows the discrepancy has shrunk in recent years.

The gap between the state proficiency test scores and NAEP results decreased in fourth-grade reading and math and eighth-grade math. In eighth-grade reading, the gap increased by 3 percentage points between 2012-13 and 2013-14, according to the study.

Karen Nussle, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, which helped publicize the Achieve report, noted that more transparent test results should help students and families avoid investing their money in remedial courses at the college level.

The Achieve report cited a 29.1 percent remediation rate at four-year programs in Nevada, with an even higher rate of 41.6 percent at two-year programs. Additionally, only 36.8 percent of Nevada students at four-year colleges who require remediation go on to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, the report reads.

“For those (students) who do graduate and go on to four-year college, a third of them pay for courses they should have left high school knowing,” Nussle said. “Of the kids that need remediation, not very many of them get through” to graduation.

“We have kids who get to college, need help, start accruing debt, don’t finish and then have no degree,” she added. “The first step to fix that is transparency.”

Contact Neal Morton at nmorton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton.

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