National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the nation’s report card, is the only national evaluation program for United States. It measures student performance on twelve main subject including math, science, reading and arts. NAEP samples a number of schools across the country similar to the demographics of the nation. It gives an overview of how American children are doing. In addition, it breaks down results between the four regions in US (northeast, southeast, central, west) and students with certain demographic feature, for example gender, race, and disabilities. With its concrete standards throughout the years, it is often seen as the golden standard for assessment.
Early NAEP only report national wide results, it does not report state-level data. In fact, NAEP was not originally designed for state comparisons. As most educational policies in the US are implemented in the district or state level, policy makers have been pushing for a valid test on the state level. After a few trial runs, state NAEP is now part of the nation’s report card. Nevertheless, NAEP still have no data on district level. Most states have developed a state assessment to evaluate district-level performance. In Michigan, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) was used as the state assessment. Comparison between different state assessments is not meaningful due to the varying difficulty of state assessments.
Enormous changes were made after the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, more commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001. NCLB require states to evaluate 4th, 8th grade students regularly with NAEP in math and reading. In other words, states are required to hold up accountability of educational performances by holding tests and report the test results regularly. NCLB also sets the progress plans for the schools. Ultimately, all students have to be “proficient” by 2014.
As discussed by several scholars, the ultimate standard set by NCLB is practically impossible which can be seen as an oxymoron. In addition, schools not fulfilling the agenda will lose some of their funding. This gives the states the incentive to “cheat” on the test. Common measures include states giving out easier tests or setting lower standard of proficiency. Driven by the political pressure, results from states assessment reported that "all states are above average".
Rothstein, Richard, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilde. 2006. “'Proficiency for All' – An Oxymoron” Education Week, November 29.