Align student performance with U.S., global standards
Arizona Republic
December  9, 2007


The economic environment continues to evolve at a rapid pace, with countries such as China and India bringing substantial numbers of highly educated, highly skilled, low-cost workers into the marketplace. If we in Arizona and America do not educate our students to world standards, we will not be competitive.

Setting our goals short of national and global standards will result in a false victory.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, has come to serve as a national standard for America. We believe it is a useful standard by which to relate American student performance to the global arena.
The academic-performance imperatives of No Child Left Behind have established a measured mile for every school in America. Yet, widely varying state standards allow states to fall well short of NAEP standards.

The NAEP establishes three levels of performance: basic, proficient and advanced. A recently published report by the U.S. Department of Education, using an analysis that translates individual state standards into NAEP scores, finds that no single state has set the reading standards at the level of "proficient" on the NAEP standards. Furthermore, an eighth-grader in Missouri would need the equivalent of 311 on the NAEP scale to be judged proficient on that state's standard, whereas a Tennessee student would need only 230. Such score differences represent a gap of several grade levels.

These dramatic differences in state standards should be unacceptable to all Americans. They do not require our students to meet national standards, much less world standards.

In addition to the ability to compare state standards with the national NAEP standards, students from each state periodically take the national exam itself. Here, too, there is cause for alarm. Overall, considerably less than 40 percent of U.S. children in the fourth and eighth grades test at the proficient or advanced level for math and reading. In Arizona, the results are substantially worse as we typically rank in the lower 20 percent of the states (see the full results at

If you couple these test results with another troubling statistic - more than 30 percent of our young people do not even graduate from high school - you have to conclude that we are not preparing the next generation workforce to be competitive in the world market.

To make Arizona students truly competitive on a global level, the Arizona P-20 Council has recommended that all students complete four years of math and three years of science in order to graduate from high school. Mindful of the shortage of qualified math and science teachers, a recent National Academies' report entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm has recommended a bold national program for increasing significantly the numbers of math and science teachers. Many of the suggestions contained in this report await appropriations approval.

At the same time, Gov. Janet Napolitano in her role as head of the National Governors Association has launched an ambitious campaign to improve U.S. competitiveness through improvement in our educational efforts. The governor, along with a majority of other states, has signed on to the concept of the American Diploma Project sponsored by Achieve, an organization representing the states and U.S. business interests. The American Diploma Project very simply states that a high-school diploma should represent sufficient educational attainment to allow the holder to either go on to college or enter the workforce without remedial training.

Currently, the NAEP results, the fact that over 30 percent of new college students have to take remedial courses and the complaints from the business interests about having to train entry-level workers in communications, math and basic problem-solving skills suggests that we have much work to do to make the American Diploma Project a reality.

To place Arizona students on a national and global scale, we support the adoption of the four-year math and three-year science requirements for all Arizona high-school students and urge Congress to appropriate the funds to support the National Academies' recommendation for increasing the number of certified math and science teachers.

We also recommend that we align Arizona student performance standards with the NAEP standards and establish a goal of having Arizona student achievement reach the NAEP standard of "proficient" in all fields by 2020.

Many encouraging steps are under way to make Arizona more economically competitive for the years ahead. We recommend the additional steps outlined above in the belief that they are essential to make Arizona educationally competitive, as well.

We urge the Arizona Board of Education to align high-school graduation standards, specifically to raise the math and science requirements, with university entrance standards.