How have standards for students changed?
Federal researchers have found that standards are lower than they used to be. Between 2005 and 2007, fifteen states lowered their definition of proficiency for 4th or 8th graders, in reading, math, or both.
Changing the meaning of proficient means that a higher percentage of students are scoring as proficient, without any improvement in their education. This new scoring system may help schools stay ahead of the consequences of poorly scoring students, but it doesn’t benefit the student’s education.
Oregon recently passed a law allowing students to graduate without any testing to prove they are proficient in reading or math. Reportedly, the biggest difficulty for students was caused by lack of math skills.
Pandemic learning loss and the failure of online learning both contributed to this change, which will be in place for students until 2027.
The danger of removing these requirements is more students slipping through the cracks. It is much easier to pass a class than to prove proficiency in a subject through testing, which may lead to more students graduating with large gaps in their math or reading abilities.
Why did this change happen?
Some standards may have been lowered to avoid consequences of students scoring poorly on standardized tests. By changing the lower limit of an acceptable score, more students are considered “proficient”, and the problem is not fixed, but ignored.
Overall, fewer students seem to be on accelerated math tracks. Some college students start out taking Algebra 1, a class usually completed in middle school or early high school. Despite this, Algebra 1 is still labeled a “college” math class on some campuses. This standard has changed not because it is more effective to learn algebra later, but because fewer people are being pushed to take challenging math courses at a young age.
Another contributor to lower standards in public schools may be lower standards for college acceptances. Some schools provide low standards to fill as many seats as possible, and keep those low standards after students are accepted to keep opinions of the school favorable.
There has also been a drastic reduction in applications to teacher programs. Knowing it is a high stress position, without a consistently functional administration system, may be a deterrent for students, even those who love teaching.
This lack of teachers means that the remaining teachers are struggling with large class sizes and less support. Despite wanting the best for their students, teachers aren’t always able to reach the goals set by administration.
Rather than giving teachers more support, time, or resources, the goals for standardized testing or the yearly curriculum are lowered by people who don’t have the same insight into the way a classroom is run.
For example, the Virginia Board of Education has lowered the standard of reading proficiency in all elementary, middle, and high schools. Student performances were declining, and instead of dedicating more resources to increase the achievement of the students, the standards were lowered.
There was a large difference between the proficiency seen from data collection and the proficiency seen from exams. This difference is called an honesty gap and contributes to the differences between state and federal standards for education.
There are many reasons for these issues and proficiency declines, but the biggest is the pandemic and the lockdowns caused by it. Learning online and at home was difficult for most students, which led to declines in student performance.
What problems did the changed standards cause?
Having lower standards means that even when a goal is set and reached, there is less overall achievement. In some schools, less than half of graduating students were considered ready for college.
Although not every high school graduate will attend college, a national average of 66% will transition directly from high school to college. This means that many of the people starting college are not considered college ready, and even those who are considered prepared may be meeting artificially low standards.
What does it mean for your child?
Principal of Learn4Life-North Charleston High School, Steven Rayzer states, “Simply moving students along to the next grade or more difficult subject sets them up for future failure.”
Tougher grading standards have been shown to produce better results for all groups of students, regardless of other factors.
Having high expectations for your child can help them to succeed and thrive. Don’t always be satisfied if your child is said to be “at grade level”. Compare multiple sources to find out what topics your child should know at their age or grade. Encourage your child to keep learning outside of school.
If you think your child is behind, consider tutoring to help them get back up to speed and fill in any gaps in their knowledge.