State Standards on Science Exams Vary ‘Wildly’

A new report by Change the Equation shows that the passing scores on state science examinations vary significantly from state to state.

According to a new report by Change the Equation, the benchmark for achieving a “proficient” score on eighth grade science assessments is radically different from state to state. In 16 states, a pass mark is below the “basic” level on the countrywide benchmarks set in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), while New Hampshire and Rhode Island have set a higher benchmark than the NAEP, writes Jason Koebler at US News.

The report is the first in a series of briefs from Change the Equation’s State Vital Signs initiative, which examines the condition of STEM learning in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“The concern we have is that if you’re not setting proficiency at an appropriate level, then you’re misleading,” says Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation.

“Even if you’re misleading parents inadvertently, if they see their child is proficient, they won’t be motivated to take action to fix [their child's science achievement].”

There is a worrying correlation between the states that set lower standards than the NAEP and the number of students who pass their exams and who are rated as “college ready” by ACT exam standards.

For example, over three-quarters of eighth graders in Michigan passed the state science exam in 2009, but only 26 percent of its high school graduates were deemed “college ready”. While in Minnesota- where the state bar is set very close to the NAEP “proficient” benchmark – the same percentage of state exam passers in 2009 met ACT “college ready” science standards.

Rosen believes it’s imperative to ensure students in all states are judged similarly.

“What states are currently defining as acceptable performance is wildly variable,” she says.

“That can’t be. Eighth graders in New Hampshire don’t need to know something different than eighth graders in New Mexico.”

States with the toughest standards:

  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Massachusetts
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota

While states with least strict standards:

  • Virginia
  • Tennessee
  • Michigan
  • North Carolina
  • Iowa

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