Historically, the answer has been b). The National Centre for Educational Statistics (NCES), a federal body, looked at how the states’ definitions of “proficiency” at maths and reading compared with its own rigorous one. For grade 4 reading in 2009, not one state held its pupils to as high a standard (see map). Fifteen states labelled a child “proficient” when the NCES would have called her skills “basic”; 35 bestowed that honour on children performing at “below basic” level.
Small wonder parents are crying out for grades that mean something. Helpfully, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have been pushing for “Common Core” national standards in maths and English. Forty-five states have said they will adopt them. Science standards are being developed by a separate group of 26 states, and were released in April.