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Published: Sunday, 11/8/2009

Diluting academics

TO ENSURE that schools meet the federally mandated goals of the No Child Left Behind law, some states have set easier academic standards to measure student achievement. So, while the schools may meet the federally mandated goals of the 2002 statute, their students are falling behind in what they ought to be learning.

That was the troubling conclusion of a blunt report by the Department of Education in an assessment of how state achievement levels can be undermined when tougher standards are applied. "We're lying to our children when we tell them they're proficient, but they're not achieving at a level that will prepare them for success once they graduate," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

His agency compared state achievement standards to the more challenging standards behind the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress. The findings include 31 states with fourth-graders who rated proficient in reading when they would have rated below basic on NAEP.

Seventeen states claimed eighth graders proficient in reading when they also scored below basic on NAEP. And another 10 states deemed fourth and eighth graders proficient at math when NAEP scores indicated that they, too, would have rated below basic.

The Obama Administration says the report, which shows stunning disparities in academic standards among states, bolsters its argument for all states to adopt the same tougher standards for what students should know. And while the federal government can't impose those standards on the states, it can encourage them - with millions of stimulus dollars in grants - to accept a set of uniform standards being developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The good news is that every state, with the exception of Texas and Alaska, has signaled an interest in better preparing children to achieve and succeed in a global economy by already committing to the higher standards.

That way, advocates say, no matter where children live, the educational achievement bar won't be determined by their ZIP Code.

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