Nevada education officials were mildly encouraged last month by a modest improvement in the state’s math scores.
But the numbers may have been somewhat misleading.
Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing found that Nevada was one of only four states to show improvement in math proficiency in both the fourth and eighth grades this year.
The scores were still dismal — only 39 percent of fourth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders were deemed proficient in math — but at least that was better than previous years.
Turns out, though, that Nevada, like many other states, has a different definition of “proficient” than does the federal government. Under the law, states are free to set their own standards — and they do. While a few fix the bar higher than Washington, most do not.
Nevada, for instance, says a student is proficient if he or she meets the “basic” level on NAEP standards. But Gloria Dopf, the state’s associate superintendent for instruction, admits that’s one level below what NAEP deems sufficient.
In other words, some students deemed “proficient” at math by Nevada standards are nothing of the sort when judged by the national benchmark.
Now, none of this has anything to do with the slight improvement in Nevada’s math scores this year. But it does mean that there are likely many more kids struggling in basic math classes than the state is willing to admit.
At the very least, Nevada should raise its definition of “proficiency” to meet the federal standard.
“States are setting the bar too low,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “We’re lying to our children when we tell them they’re proficient, but they’re not achieving at a level that will prepare them for success once they graduate.”