November 4th, 2009
09:42 PM ET

C-A-T spells Cat

Program Note: Don't miss Randi Kaye’s full report tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

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Randi Kaye| BIO
AC360° Correspondent

So let me get this straight!

Schools across the country are lowering standards – actually dumbing down lesson plans – to avoid sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

That act was President George W. Bush’s signature education reform. It mandates that every child in school must be “proficient” in reading and math by 2014 and schools that fall short are subject to sanctions.

Now a new federal study shows that nearly a third of the states lowered academic standards in recent years. Fifteen states in all lowered proficiency standards in fourth and eighth-grade reading or math from 2005 to 2007. Three states – Maine, Oklahoma, and Wyoming – lowered standards in both subjects at both grade levels. Yikes!

On a positive note, though, the study found eight states actually raised their standards even though their funding was threatened.

The federal study found some states had been lowering their proficiency standards which made it easier for lower test scores to qualify as proficient. Isn’t the idea of going to school about raising students proficiency and making kids smarter? It was when I was younger.

What is more important, avoiding sanctions or giving kids a better education? Parents, if you’re reading this, how would you feel about your child’s school making it easier for your child to get by?

For example, in Mississippi, the state with the least rigorous standards, a score of 163 is considered “proficient” but in Massachusetts, at the top, the bar for proficiency is set at 232. That’s a difference of 69 points. Should your child’s education be determined by zip code?

The standards, according to the study, are highest in Massachusetts and South Carolina. Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee were among the lowest. But the standards around the country are all over the place. Translation: fourth graders in Massachusetts may be learning at a much higher level than those in, say, Tennessee. In the end, who does that hurt? And who will really be better prepared for the future?

Right now, there is no uniform standard for proficiency. The states, except for Texas and Alaska which declined, are working together to create some type of common academic standards.

The way NCLB works is schools get to set their own standards and write their own standardized tests. All they have to do is make sure their kids pass them. Dumbing them down practically guarantees that! If the students don’t pass, the federal government will take away some of the money the schools were given. Schools may also have to pay for tutoring students or even bus kids to another school where they can possibly do better. So instead of taking that risk, some schools simply made it easier for the kids to look proficient without really being proficient. Then they get to keep their funding and everybody’s happy, right?

Not exactly says the Obama Administration. It’s been trying to persuade states to adopt a uniform set of tougher standards for education but because education policy is largely controlled at the state level, the federal government can’t impose a set of standards. Education Secretary Arne Duncan puts it this way: “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.”

Read the full report, compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, here.

Follow Randi Kaye on Twitter @randikayecnn.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Education • Randi Kaye
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Lynne

    Most of the problem lies with the lazy parents who don't help their kids out or who aren't even involved!!! The more educated a parent is the more likely their child will succeed in school. That is why test scores are so much better in the NE than most other areas of the country.

    November 5, 2009 at 6:12 am |
  2. Audry

    Why not just send kids to elementary school and then have an application process for those who actually wish to get a high school education? It would ensure that children who want to go to school actually get a quality education and those children who don't care won't be a burden to their classmates, teachers, and school systems.

    November 4, 2009 at 6:50 pm |
  3. Nydia

    I think that it is the combined responsibility for the schools and parents to educate their children. Parents have become lazy and push the entire responsibility of their childs education on that of the schools.

    November 4, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  4. dtc

    I live in oklahoma and I can tell you first hand that our public education system sucks. I have a few friends that are teachers, and I hear storys all the time about pushing kids through and just giving them Cs & Ds to move them along. This is a counter productive system. I always say anything counter productive never works. just reverse the entire system, if a child is gets good grades give that school more money, the rest of the slackers will catch on and start studying.

    November 4, 2009 at 6:12 pm |
  5. bmur

    that amazes me since our Kindergardeners are supposed to be reading and the skills that are required of our grade school children are way above their developmental capabilities....piaget anyone?

    November 4, 2009 at 5:51 pm |
  6. Jocelyn G wheeling, IL

    Thats how I feel too. i feel that i had already leaned what my school is teaching me now. I learned all of the science things in 8th grade and they are reteaching me this in 10th grade? for what? yes it makes school easyer but makes us look stupid in the longrun. are they gunna make college easyer to that we can pass it?

    November 4, 2009 at 5:20 pm |
  7. darrel ganzert

    I am an educator in Canada. My observations of the US system lead me to believe that a. if teachers were paid higher salaries better qualified applicants would become teachers, b. the testing regime isn't working, c. look to the countries ahead of the US for answers of how to improve education ex. Finland, d. child poverty is the key issue to correct before long term education reform can take place.

    November 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm |
  8. jim

    Obama had better make certain that all American children are as well educated as they can be. They will need this in order to pay off the enormous debt he has arranged for them to be saddled with!

    November 4, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  9. Tania S.

    And people wonder why I have chosen to educate my children at home. We will, as a country, fix this mess. I am sure. But I will not let my children fall through the cracks and suffer as we do it.

    November 4, 2009 at 3:48 pm |
  10. Dave S, Tinley Park, IL

    It's not really a surprise that this happened in conjunction with Bush, considering the wheels that were greased to get him into Yale. This country is definitely headed downhill when it comes to intelligence–the proof is in a majority of the news and youtube videos that are out there.

    November 4, 2009 at 3:19 pm |
  11. Jeanette

    Have they considered NOT THREATENING OUR SCHOOLS. Instead try helping them with their problems.

    November 4, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  12. Jeanette

    This is especially sad due to the fact they have been lowering them for years and continue to do so. What happened to making the kids learn instead of lowering everything. When people my age were in grade school we learned or did not pass and believe me we are the generation that made our country great. This is why we have gone down hill so bad in the last 25 years or so.
    No wonder our country is so far behind so many other countries in education. We don't expect anything so therefore won't get anything.

    November 4, 2009 at 3:00 pm |