Eighth graders in Washington state scored above the national average in both math and reading on the assessment known as the nation's report card.
Forty-one percent of Washington eighth graders scored at or above proficient on the math test, and 42 percent achieved that level on the reading test. Nationally, 33 percent scored at or above proficient on the math test, and 35 percent achieved that level on the reading test.
Massachusetts led the nation on the eighth grade math test with 50 percent of students showing proficiency. On the eighth grade reading test, students at schools run by the Department of Defense for children of military personnel scored the highest, with 51 percent proficient. Massachusetts was second, with 49 percent proficient.
The fact that 59 percent of Washington eighth graders did not reach the “proficient” level on the math test and 58 percent failed to reach that threshold on the reading test may cause concern for some people. But Sheila Valencia, a professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington, said the test sets a high bar for showing proficiency and that the results show Washington schools are doing okay.
“I think there’s room for improvement, but I don’t think there’s cause for hand-wringing,” she said. “This is a high level of sophistication at the level of proficient.”
James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, said his group would like to see the National Assessment of Educational Progress change the terminology because the word “proficient” can cause confusion. He said people think it means testing at grade level when really it’s a higher benchmark than that.
“We think labeling students as proficient or not proficient was a very big mistake and it has contributed to this message that American schools are failures because only 30 percent of kids are proficient on these various tests,” Harvey said.
He stressed that he’s not advocating that the test be made easier or that standards be lowered. Instead, he would like to categorize students’ results with the labels “low,” “intermediate,” “high,” and “advanced.” He said right now what’s labeled “proficient” really should be termed “high.”
The assessment currently has three levels: “basic,” “proficient,” and “advanced.”
Among fourth graders in Washington, 42 percent showed proficiency in math, compared with 40 percent nationally, and 39 percent were proficient on the reading test compared with 35 percent nationally.