Use grade levels to understand NAEP

The Don’t Fail Idaho media blitz asks us to rethink education for Idaho because results from the NAEP 2011 tests prove that about 60 percent of Idaho’s fourth- and eighth-grade students were not proficient in reading and mathematics. Not proficient in the sense that 60 percent of our students are not making the grade, are falling further behind and will never catch up.

Not to panic, though! The Don’t Fail Idaho campaign’s message about student achievement is based on an incorrect understanding and analysis of NAEP achievement levels. One thing for sure, misreporting student achievement data is not going to help anyone make informed decisions about K-12 education in Idaho.

The English language descriptors in the table were gleaned from a variety of NAEP publications and presentations. They were used to help define and clarify how NAEP achievement levels should be understood, interpreted, and used.


It is important — even crucial — to understand:

1. That NAEP uses Proficient to name one achievement level.

2. that NAEP uses proficiency in subject to define the achievement level named Basic. NAEP Proficient does not mean proficiency in the subject. Period.

If the National Assessment Governing Board had elected to use letter grades from “A” to “F” instead of achievement level names, the Board could might have used “A+” for Advanced, “A” for Proficient, and “B” and “C” for Basic.

Unfortunately, Don’t Fail Idaho focused on the name Proficient rather than on “proficiency in the subject.” As a result, the campaign reported that more than 60 percent of Idaho students failed to exhibit at least an “A” performance in reading and mathematics. Not a useful statistic. It told us absolutely nothing about the “B” and “C” students who did demonstrate NAEP proficiency in reading and mathematics.

On NAEP 2011, 31 percent of our fourth-graders and 19 percent of our eighth-graders were not proficient in reading, while 17 percent of our fourth-graders and 23 percent of our eighth-graders were not proficient in mathematics. None of these percentages square with the 60 percent claimed in the media blitz.

For more about using letter grades to help understand NAEP’s achievement levels see:

  1.  Ravitch, D. (2012). Copy of Ravitch May 14, 2012, blog post
  2. Stoneberg, B. (2007, p. 4).
  • Kevin S. Wilson

    I assume that we will soon be treated to either a defense of the manner in which the Albertson Foundation/Don’t Fail Idaho has interpreted these data, or to a full retraction of the claim that “60 percent of Idaho’s fourth and eighth grade students were not proficient in reading and mathematics.” If the latter, I would hope that the Albertson Foundation/Don’t Fail Idaho will do everything in its power to ensure that the retraction is given as much media coverage as was the claim itself.

  • Travis Manning

    Just a suggestion here. Either The Albertson’s Foundation and Don’t Fail Idaho issue a full, public retraction for misrepresenting Idaho’s public schools, its teachers and its students, or we will issue a press release in the next couple of days to every media entity in the state enlightening the public on this very issue. Thank you.

    • Josh Ritchie

      Agreed. This misrepresentation has been brought to their attention by myself and many other people with no response. The Albertson Foundation has lost all credibility as having a real interest in improving education. Joe and Kathryn were such advocates of education it is embarrassing to have their name attached to this political group.

  • Kim Hanson

    I am a little curious that the Albertson Foundation spent over $13 million dollars on Accelerated Reader and new books back in the late 1990’s to improve reading yet they say in their information how low the reading scores are. We are grateful for the donation and know the reading scores are much higher than they are reporting. Are they bamboozled by Luna?

  • http://fACEBOOK Barbara Hale

    If we don’t get Luna out of office and Albertson’s does’t retract, heaven help the Education System. OUR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS DESERVE BETTER.

  • Kevin S. Wilson

    In a blog entry titled “Idaho Has a Problem,” noted education historian and former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch weighs in on this topic. Dr. Ravitch is the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education” and the forthcoming book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”