February 23rd, 2010
06:47 PM ET

CNN Fact Check: State math standards cut?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/US/08/20/corporal.punishment/art.school.kids.gi.jpg caption="The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to establish academic proficiency standards in reading and mathematics."]

Jim Dexter

Speaking to governors at the White House on Monday, President Barack Obama suggested there's been an unintended consequence of the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001.

That law required states to establish academic proficiency standards in reading and mathematics. It gave them until the 2005-2006 school year to develop tests to demonstrate adequate yearly progress.

The president declared: "Between 2005 and 2007, under No Child Left Behind, 11 states actually lowered their standards in math. That may make those states look better relative to other states, but it's not going to help our students keep up with their global competitors."

Fact Check: Did 11 states reduce math standards to boost test scores?

- The "No Child Left Behind Act" requires states to test students in reading and mathematics, but it allows each state to set its own standard for proficiency.

- According to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Education, two states - Hawaii and Ohio - lowered their standards for fourth-grade math proficiency; five states - Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Oregon

- lowered their standards for eighth-grade math proficiency; and four - Maine, Michigan, Oklahoma and Wyoming - lowered their standards for both fourth- and eighth-grade math proficiency. Several of those states dispute the report's findings.

- Michigan says the feds based their conclusion on "erroneous comparisons" of tests conducted during different parts of the school year.

- Oklahoma says it modified standards for a small number of special education students, but it did not change standards for the vast majority of students.

- Ohio school spokesman Scott Blake said there has been "no effort to lower standards" in his state. "There is a difference between deciding to lower standards and what this study did, which is to use statistical procedure to notice that standards have become lower," Blake said.

- Wyoming denied making any changes.

- Lisa York Gross of the Kentucky Department of Education said, "We did not lower standards, and we didn't change requirements for proficiency."

- Missouri acknowledged making adjustments in proficiency assessments in 2006, but it says its academic standards remain among the highest in the nation.

- Oregon says it lowered its eighth-grade achievement standards by one point, but spokeswoman Susanne Smith says, "We would never lower our standards to achieve higher scores. In fact, that same year we raised our standards in elementary math, reading and science. The goal with performance setting standards is to ensure that the education system is adequately calibrated so that what students are required to know at any given level is being adequately and fairly assessed."

- CNN also contacted the other four states for comment, but received no immediate responses from those states.

- Grover J. Whitehurst, an education specialist for the Brookings Institution, calls the president's statement misleading. "It suggests that states that lowered their standards did so to game the system," he says. "That may have happened, but there are many legitimate reasons for states to make substantive changes in their assessments, for example to better align their assessments with their standards of learning. It is by no means clear who was trying to game the system and who wasn't."

Bottom Line: Many of the states identified as having lowered standards deny the accusation. And it's not clear how many states - if any - reduced their standards so that their scores would look better compared to other states' scores.

Got something that needs checking? E-mail us at factcheck@cnn.com

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