Feds fault state education guidelines

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“Proficient” is relative.

Across the country, student performance on standardized reading and math tests is worse than most states lead parents to believe, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the federal Education Department.

Under current law, states set their own benchmarks for student proficiency, but those bars are often far below the standards used by the federal government. Only Massachusetts meets the federal level, according to the report.

“Low expectations are the norm. Setting 50 different bars in 50 different states is tremendously problematic. That’s actually lying to parents,” Joanne Weiss, chief of staff to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said while speaking at a press conference Wednesday at the National Press Club, where the report was released.

Mr. Duncan visited Tennessee on Wednesday, a state he recently cites when pointing out problems with the assessment system under the No Child Left Behind law.

The NCES report singled out Tennessee as having the lowest achievement bars in the nation, citing 2009 data. Since then, the state has significantly raised its standards, and Mr. Duncan frequently praises Tennessee for finally deciding to “tell the truth” to students, parents, teachers and officials.

But the truth hurts. By raising the bar, Tennessee now reports far fewer students proficient in reading and math.

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